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Before we can start in with some new and interesting medical terms, you need to learn a few fundamentals of how medical terminology is constructed as a language.

There are three basic parts to medical terms: a word root (usually the middle of the word and its central meaning), a prefix (comes at the beginning and usually identifies some subdivision or part of the central meaning), and a suffix (comes at the end and modifies the central meaning as to what or who is interacting with it or what is happening to it).   An example may make better sense.

Word root

therm = heat
hypothermia (less heat), thermometer (measuring heat)

Let’s look at a real medical term and take it apart.

Myocarditis
(prefix) (root) (suffix)
myo = muscle card = heart itis = inflammation

Don’t get blown away by that big, intimidating word! We haven’t introduced word roots yet. I just wanted to demonstrate the major parts of a medical term. Let’s see how prefix and suffix changes can alter the meaning of a term without changing its central meaning by keeping the root the same.

Prefix change:

myocarditis = muscle layer of heart inflamed
pericarditis = outer layer of heart inflamed
endocarditis = inner layer of heart inflamed

Suffix change:

cardiologist = a physician specializing in the heart
cardiomyopathy = damage to heart muscle layer
cardiomegaly = enlargement of the heart

Again, we haven’t introduced heart terms yet. These basics are just to introduce the parts of medical terms and demonstrate how moving the parts around modifies the central meaning without changing the “root” (cardio).

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