Well, for most school-age children and their parents, September means ‘back to school.’ And it shall be no different this month for readers of The Flame. This past month, I’ve had the enormous pleasure of volunteering at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. As school groups visit the Museum, they learn of Nightingale’s education (rare for women in the Victorian age) in Math and Latin. In recognition of the ‘back to school’ tradition as well as Mrs. Adele Layton, my high school Latin teacher, we bring you a small lesson in understanding medical terminology.

— Betty Long, RN, MHA, President/CEO, Guardian Nurses Health Advocates


It’s Greek to Me. Or Maybe it’s Latin.

If you feel like most healthcare providers are ‘talking Greek’ to you, you aren’t entirely wrong! Most terms used in medicine do come from two of the classical languages, Greek and Latin.

We thought it might be helpful if we offered a few examples of the prefixes, roots, and suffixes of the words that are being used. We know that you can easily ‘let your fingers do the walking’ by using Google, but a basic understanding of Latin and Greek etymology (the study of the origin and history of words) may improve your comfort while engaging with the healthcare system.


Brady: slow (bradycardia: slow heart)
A or An: without or not (asexual: without sex)
Dys: defective; abnormal (dystrophy: abnormal
Hyper: above normal (hypertonic: above normal tone)
Hypo: below normal (hypothyroid: below normal function of thyroid)
Iso: equal (isotonic: equal tone)
Myo: muscle (myocardium: muscle of the heart)
Osteo: pertaining to the bone (osteoarthritis)
Peri: around (pericardium: around the heart)
Poly: many (polycystic: many cysts)


cardi: heart (cardiology: study of the heart)
chol: bile/gall bladder (cholecystecomy: removal of gall bladder)
cyt: cells (cytology: study of cells)
enter: intestine (gastroenteritis: inflammation of lining of stomach and intestines)
heme: blood (hematology: study of blood)
hepat:liver (hepatitis: inflammation of the liver)
neph: kidney (nephrology: study of the kidneys)
ocul: eye (ocular)
pan: completely/whole (pancytopenia: low count of all blood cells–white, red and platelets)
ur: urinary system


–megaly: enlargement (cardiomegaly: enlarged heart)
itis: inflammation (gastritis: inflammation of the lining of stomach)
ology: study of (kinesiology: study of body mechanics/movement)
–oma: tumor (carcinoma)
pathy: disease or disorder (neuropathy: disease of nerves)
penia: deficiency (osteopenia: reduction in bone mass)
–plegia: paralysis (quadraplegia: complete paralysis of body)


–centesis: surgical puncture (thoracentesis: puncture of thorax)
–ectomy: excision or removal of body part (appendectomy)
plasty: repair, reconstruction (abdominoplasty: repair of abdomen)
–scopy: using viewing instrument (arthroscopy: inside a joint)
–stomy: creation of an opening (colostomy: opening in colon)
–tomy: act of cutting; making an incision (lithotomy: surgical removal of kidney stones)

Being engaged in the healthcare system can be a stressful time, but it is important to understand what healthcare providers are saying to you. Recently, I was with a husband and wife when a hospital physician stopped in to discuss treatment options for the husband’s stage 4 lung cancer. I heard him say, “You have a significant disease burden and it’s uncertain if systemic treatment is warranted.” Though no Latin or Greek may have been used in that sentence, it very well could have been judging by the look on both their faces. Even if you don’t master any prefixes, roots or suffixes, please remember to always ask questions — especially if you don’t completely understand what is being said to you.



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