Simplified explanation and interpretation of medical terms


ABDOMINAL AORTA — Section of the aorta that passes through the abdomen to supply blood to the lower part of the body.

ABSCESS — Swollen inflamed, tender area of infection containing pus.

ACCIDENT-PRONENESS — Tendency of some children to have more accidents than normal. It may be due to a risk factor such as poor vision, but unconscious factors are often the cause.

ACETAMINOPHEN — Non-prescription medication used to relieve minor pain and to reduce fever. Its analgesic effects are similar to aspirin, but it does not reduce inflammation or swelling. It is less irritating to the stomach than aspirin.

ACHYLASIA — Condition of the esophagus that disrupts normal swallowing.

ACUPUNCTURE — Method of anesthesia and treatment of pain developed by the Chinese. Needles are inserted through the skin to stimulate prescise areas.

ACUTE — Beginning suddenly; also severe, but of short duration.

ADDICTION — Intense craving for substances such as alcohol, tobacco or narcotics, or a compulsive behavior such as gambling.

ADENOIDS — Infection-fighting tissue (part of the lymphatic system) in the upper throat, near the tonsils.

ADENOIDS, ENLARGED — Adenoids that have swollen and impaired speech.

ADENOVIRUS — Group of viruses that cause certain respiratory and eye infections.

ADHESIONS — Small strands of fibrous tissue that cause organs in the abdomen and pelvis to cling together abnormally, creating a risk of intestinal obstruction.

ADOLESCENCE — Time of life from the beginning of puberty until maturity.

ADRENAL GLANDS — Two glands attached to the kidneys. Each has an outer layer (cortex) that produces steroid hormones and an inner layer (medulla) that produces adrenalin.

ADRENALIN — Hormone produced by the adrenal glands that increases heart rate and prepares the body for crisis. Also called epinephrine.

AGING — The normal process of gradual physical and mental decline.

AIRWAYS — Tubular passages that air passes through to the lungs; the trachea (windpipe), bronchi, and bronchioles.

ALBINISM — A rare, inherited disorder characterized by a lack of normal coloration of eyes, hair, skin, and sometimes shortness. The eyes are intolerant of light, move back and forth, and are affected by astigmatism. There is no treatment, except total protection from exposure to sunlight.

ALLERGY SKIN TESTS — A series of tests in which various substances are injected into the skin in minute amounts for the purpose of ruling in or out a person’s allergy to that substance.

ALVEOLI — Lung cells at ends of the airways where oxygen enters the blood and waste gases leave the blood.

AMBULATORY MEDICAL CENTER — A health-care facility for patients who do not require prolonged bed rest or hospitalization.

AMNIOCENTESIS — A surgical procedure using a laparoscope (a hollow instrument with a system of lenses) that is pushed through a small incision in the abdominal wall and thence into the uterus to obtain amniotic fluid for study.

AMNIOTIC SAC — The thin, transparent membrane filled with fluid in which the fetus lives until born.

AMPHETAMINE DRUGS — Habit-forming drugs that stimulate the brain and central nervous system, increase blood pressure, reduce nasal stuffiness, or suppress appetite.

AMYLOID DEPOSITS — Abnormal protein material deposited in tissues, usually caused by diseases. These deposits cause impairment of certain organs.

ANALGESICS — Medications that relieve pain.

ANEMIA — Condition in which red blood cells or hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying substance in blood) is inadequate.

ANESTHESIA, GENERAL — Causing temporary loss of consciousness and inability to feel pain by use of inhaled gases or injected anesthetics.

ANESTHESIA, LOCAL — Temporary prevention of pain by injecting medication (local anesthetic).

ANESTHESIA, LOCAL (NERVE BLOCK) — Injection of the local anesthetic near the nerves of the surgical area.

ANEURYSM — Abnormal swelling or ballooning of a blood vessel.

ANGIOGRAM, ANGIOGRAPHY — Study of arteries and veins by injecting material into them that X-rays can outline.

ANOSCOPY — Visual examination of the anus by means of a short tube called an anoscope, an optical instrument with lenses and a lighted tip.

ANTACID — Medicine taken orally that reduces or neutralizes stomach acid.

ANTIARRHYTHMICS — Medications used to treat heartbeat irregularities (arrhythmias).

ANTIBIOTICS — Medications that attack germs and fight infection.

ANTIBIOTICS, CEPHALOSPORIN — Class of antibiotics related to penicillin, capable of destroying more kinds of germs than penicillin.

ANTIBIOTICS, ERYTHROMYCIN — Class of antibiotics that destroys germs similar to those destroyed by penicillin. Often used to treat infections in patients who are allergic to penicillin.

ANTIBODIES — Proteins created in blood and body tissue by the immune system to neutralize or destroy sources of disease.

ANTICANCER DRUGS — Medications that weaken or destroy cancerous tissues without harming healthy tissues.

ANTICHOLINGERGIC DRUGS — Medications that reduce nerve impulses in the parasympathetic nervous system. They control some activities of the gastrointestinal system, heart, bladder, and other organs.

ANTICOAGULANTS — Medications that slow or delay blood clotting.

ANTICONVULSANTS — Medications that control seizures (convulsions), pain, or conditions in which the brain or nerves are overly sensitive.

ANTIDEPRESSANTS — Medications that help control depression.

ANTIEMETIC DRUGS — Medications that prevent or stop nausea and vomiting.

ANTIFUNGAL DRUGS — Medications used to treat fungus diseases.

ANTIGENS — Germs or other sources of disease that antibodies (produced by the immune system) neutralize or destroy.

ANTIHELMINTHIC DRUGS — Medications used to treat worms in the intestines.

ANTIHISTAMINES — Medications used to treat allergies.

ANTIHYPERLIPIDEMIC DRUGS — Medications that reduce fat (cholesterol) in the blood. They help prevent blood-vessel disease.

ANTIHYPERTENSIVES — Medications used to reduce blood pressure.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS — Medications used to control inflammation not caused by infection.

ANTIMALARIAL DRUGS — Medications used to prevent or treat malaria.

ANTIMETABOLITE DRUGS — Medications that are used to treat some cancers and autoimmune diseases.

ANTIMICROBIAL DRUGS — Same as Antibiotics.

ANTINUCLEAR ANTIBODY — Substance that appears in the blood, indicating presence of an autoimmune disease.

ANTIPARKINSONISM DRUGS — Medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

ANTIPROTOZOAL DRUGS — Medications used in treatment of single-celled parasites (protozoa).

ANTIPRURITIC DRUGS — Medications that reduce itching.

ANTISPASMODIC DRUGS — Medications that improve digestion and relieve intestinal cramps.

ANTI-STREPTOCOCCAL TITER — Blood test that measures body’s response to infection by streptococcal bacteria.

ANTITHYROID DRUGS — Medications used to counter the effects of an overactive thyroid gland.

ANTIVIRAL DRUGS — Medications used to treat infections caused by viruses.

ANUS — A muscular band at the end of the rectum that opens and expands to allow passage of feces.

ANUS, IMPERFORATE — Congenital abnormality of newborn infants in which the anus cannot pass feces.

ANXIETY — Uncomfortable feeling that something unpleasant or dangerous will happen.

AORTA — Body’s largest blood vessel, arising from the top of the heart. It carries blood from the heart to all parts of the body.

APPENDAGE — Body part that has a minor role (or no role at all) in normal body function. For example, the appendix is an appendage to the colon that seems to have no function.

ARRHYTHMIA — Any variation from a normal heartbeat. Many that occur in children require no treatment. Abnormal rhythms can be caused by diseases of the heart (congenital heart disease, rheumatic heart disease) or by other diseases that may affect the heart rate (examples: thyroid problems, blood clotting, some drugs such as digitalis). There may be no symptoms in a child or there may be a heart rate far too fast to count — 300 or over. Other symptoms include faintness, dizziness, light-headedness. Treatment depends on the cause and must be supervised by a physician.

ARTERIOGRAM, ARTERIOGRAPHY — Studying arteries by injecting material into them that X-rays can outline.

ARTERY — Blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body.

ARTHROGRAMS — X-rays of the joints taken with an arthroscope.

ARTHROSCOPE — Slender optical instrument with a lighted tip that allows direct visual examination of some joints. It can also be used to correct some defects in joints.

ARTIFICIAL LIMBS — Mechanical substitutions for amputated arms or legs.

ASCENDING COLON — First part of the large colon (intestine) extending from the lower end of the small intestine.

ASPHYXIA — Literally from the Greek: “a stopping of the pulse.” Modern inter_pretation is the condition caused by lack of oxygen in breathed air, resulting in impending or actual cessation of life.

ASPIRATION — 1) Removal of accumulated pus or fluid with a needle. 2) Accidental inhalation of objects or fluids into the lungs.

ASTIGMATISM — Visual impairment caused by abnormal eye shape.

ASSYMMETRICAL — Uneven in size, shape, or position.

ATRIA — Small chambers in the heart that pump blood into the ventricles. Also called auricles.

ATROPINE — Medication used to treat diseases of the eye, heart, gastrointestinal system and nervous system.

AUDIOGRAM, AUDIOMETRY — Test of hearing ability.

AUTISM — A developmental disorder characterized by a lack of responsiveness to other people and by deficits in development and use of language. Cause is unknown, but may appear in conjunction with birth defects such as congenital German measles, mental retardation, or encephalitis. Treatment requires special education, training, and constant care. For further information and help, contact: National Society for Autistic Children, 1234 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20005, phone (202)783-0125.

AUTOIMMUNE ASSAYS (ANA TESTS) — Blood tests to identify autoimmune disease.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE, AUTOIMMUNITY — Disease in which a person’s immune system attacks its own tissues.

AUTOIMMUNE DISORDER — Disease in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues.

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM — Part of the nervous system that controls organs that function involuntarily, such as the heart, lungs, digestive system, and blood vessels.


BACK PAIN — A common human complaint, less likely to occur in children than in adolescents or adults. Causes include injuries such as muscle strains or sprains, muscle spasms caused by sports or auto injuries, bad mattresses, stress, urinary tract infections, influenza, fractures, dislocations, arthritis, ruptured disc, leg length discrepancies, and tumors. Treatment must be directed at the cause, under the supervision of your physician.

BACTERIA — One-celled micro-organisms that can sometimes cause disease.

BAD BREATH — An unpleasant mouth odor, rare in children. The cause is usually poor oral hygiene, but it may also occur as a result of thrush, sinusitis, congested nasal passages, and ilnesses with fever, such as colds and mononucleosis. Treatment consists of improving oral hygiene with careful brushing, using mouthwash and flossing teeth, gums, and tongue, or treating any underlying diseases.

BALDNESS OR HAIR LOSS — Can occur at any stage of childhood. Hair present at birth usually falls out, but new hair grows during childhood. Causes of hair loss other than normal include pulling or twisting hair, burns, emotional upsets, hormone problems, iron deficiency, infections (such as ringworm of the scalp, impetigo), drastic weight loss, calcium deficiency, inherited factors. Treatment varies according to the underlying cause and should be under the direction of your physician.

BALLOON ANGIOPLASTY — Treatment for obstructed arteries, especially those supplying blood to the heart and brain. A small uninflated balloon is passed up the artery to the obstruction, and then expanded to release the obstruction.

BARIUM ENEMA X-RAYS — Examining the colon by filling it with a barium solution that is detected by X-rays.

BARTHOLIN’S GLANDS — Small glands in the lips of the vagina that secrete a lubricating fluid, especially during sexual arousal.

BELLADONNA — Medication derived from a plant used to treat some diseases of the gastrointestinal system. It is similar to atropine.

BENIGN — 1) Tumor or growth that is neither cancerous nor located where it might impair normal function. 2) Harmless.

BETA-ADRENERGIC BLOCKERS (BETA-BLOCKERS) — Medications that reduce heart or blood-vessel overactivity to improve blood circulation. Also used to prevent migraine headaches, high blood pressure, and angina.

BILE — A digestive juice produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile empties into the small intestine for digestive processes.

BILE DUCT — A small tube that allows bile to pass from the gallbladder into the intestines.

BILIRUBIN — A yellowish, red blood cell waste product in bile that the blood caries to the liver. It contributes to urine’s yellowish color and can cause jaundice if it builds up in the blood.

BIOFEEDBACK TRAINING — The process of providing visual or auditory evidence to a person of the status of the autonomic nervous system. For example: the sounding of a tone when blood pressure is at a desirable level, so that the patient may exert control at future times to lower elevated blood pressure to satisfactory levels.

BIOPSY — Removal of a small amount of tissue or fluid for laboratory examination that aids in diagnosis.

BIOPSY NEEDLE — Instrument often used to perform a biopsy.

BIRTH CANAL — Passageway through the cervix and the vagina through which the baby passes during childbirth.

BIRTH CONTROL — Two-thirds of adolescent males and one-half of adolescent females in America are sexually active. Make sure your youngster has adequate instruction in sex education and particularly birth control. Example of devices and methods include condoms, contraceptive foam, diaphragm, cervical cap, vaginal contraceptive sponge, birth control pills, intrauterine device (IUD). For further information write: American Academy of Pediatrics, Department of Publications, P.O. Box 927, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007, or Imprints Magazine, Birth and Life Bookstore, 7001 Alonzo Avenue NW, P.O. Box 70625, Seattle, WA 98107.

BIRTHMARKS — These are blemishes of the skin present at birth. They fit into two categories: pigmentary and vascular. Pigmentary types include nevocellular nevi, mongolian spots, cafe-au-lait spots, epithelial nevi, Becker’s nevi, dysplastic melanocytic nevi, and white birthmarks. Vascular types include hemangiomas (also called strawberry birthmarks), port-wine stains, stork bites or salmon patches. Diagnosis requires identification by your physician. Treatment depends on the type. Most fade and disappear, others need surgical or medical treatment under a physician’s guidance.

BLADDER — An organ that holds fluids such as urine (urinary bladder) or bile (gallbladder).

BLASTOMYCOSIS — Infection caused by organisms of the genus Blastomyces.

BLINDNESS AND OTHER VISION PROBLEMS — The absence of vision. It may occur singly or in conjunction with other disabling handicaps. 20/200 or worse in the better eye is the legal limit of blindness. Ophthalmologists are required by law to report newly diagnosed blind individuals to an appropriate state agency. Causes include retrolental fibroplasia, congenital cataracts, congenital glaucoma, disorders of the retina or the optic nerve, acquired eye disease, accidents, or diseases affecting the whole body, including cancer. A precise diagnosis must be established by a competent eye specialist (ophthalmologist), who also will monitor treatment for treatable causes. Most of the treatment for a blind child is educational and takes place at home and at school and involves parents and teachers. The goal in treatment is to make it possible for the sight-impaired child to learn to become as independent as possible. Many aids (tapes, computers, books in braille, etc.) exist other than personal ones to help bring about self-sufficiency and self-confidence.

BLOOD CELLS, RED — Microscopic cells in the blood that carry oxygen to tissues of the body. One drop of blood contains about 200 million red cells.

BLOOD CELLS, WHITE — Microscopic cells in the blood that help fight infection by destroying germs. One drop of blood contains about 400,000 white cells.

BLOOD CHEMISTRIES — Tests that measure chemicals in the blood.

BLOOD COUNT — Counting red and white blood cells to aid in diagnosis of many diseases.

BLOOD PLATELETS — See Platelet Count.

BLOOD STUDIES — Examination of a blood sample to measure white blood cells, red blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and chemical substances. See Blood Chemistries.

BLOOD VESSELS — Arteries, veins, and capillaries; the tubes in which blood circulates through the body.

BONE BANK — Facility where human bone is stored and made available for transplantation.

BONE CANCER — Over 100 diseases marked by uncontrolled growth of cells. Some names of cancer applied to bones include Ewing’s sarcoma, osteogenic sarcoma, chondrosarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone. The cause is unknown. Injury in the vicinity of affected bone often precedes the detection of bone cancer, but there is no evidence that injury causes the cancer. Treatment must be individualized according to the cell type of the cancer, and the age and sex of the patient. Treatment methods include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, either singly or in combination.

BONE SPURS — Abnormal and sometimes painful protrusions of bone with sharp points near joints or tendons.

BREASTS — Fat and fibrous tissue, milk-producing glands, and milk-transporting ducts. Development: Most girls begin to develop breasts between 9 and 14 years of age. Average age is 10 or 11. Each girl develops at her own rate. The onset and rate of development and ultimate size are determined by heridity, level of female hormones, and nutrition. Disorders: If breasts fail to develop, if one is excessively larger than the other, if there is a lump in the breast or discharge from the nipple, consult your physician.

BRONCHIAL TUBES (BRONCHI) — Hollow air passageways that branch from the windpipe (trachea) into the lungs. They carry oxygen into the lungs and pass waste gases (mostly carbon dioxide) out of the body.

BRONCHIOLES — Small air passageways that serve the same purpose as bronchial tubes. Bronchioles are the smallest parts of the respiratory system.

BRONCHODILATOR DRUGS — Medications used to treat diseases of the bronchi that cause shortness of breath, such as asthma. The medicines help constricted tubes to relax.

BRONCHOGRAM — Diagnosing lung diseases by placing a material in the lung that X-rays can outline.

BRONCHOPULMONARY DYSPLASIA DISEASE (BPD) — A chronic lung disease occurring in premature infants who have required oxygen and mechanical ventilation for a long period of time during treatment to sustain life after birth. Treatment consists of assisted breathing support, supplements of calcium and vitamin E, plus medicines to assist the heart and kidneys.

BRONCHOSCOPE — An optical instrument with a lighted tip that is passed into the windpipe, then into the bronchi.

BRUISING — Discoloration under the skin caused by injury or bleeding.

BUERGER’S DISEASE — A disease characterized by an inflammatory reaction in the arteries, veins, and nerves, which leads to a thickening of the vessel walls. It occurs mostly in young men who smoke tobacco.


CALCIFICATION — A process in which calcium from the blood is deposited abnormally into tissues due to injury, infection, or aging. Often it is part of healing and not a sign of active disease.

CALCIUM-CHANNEL BLOCKER DRUGS — Medication used to treat angina, hypertension, and heartbeat irregularities.

CANCEROUS GROWTHS — Extensions of cancerous tissues that invade nearby healthy tissues.

CANCERS — Destructive tumors that can arise in almost all parts of the body. Cancer can destroy nearby healthy tissue and may spread to distant organs.

CAPILLARIES — Microscopic vessels that supply all body cells and tissues with blood.

CARBOHYDRATES, COMPLEX — Starches, sugars, cellulose, and gums. Complex carbohydrates are those contained in whole grains, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables. These are considered more nutritious than simple carbohydrates.

CARBOHYDRATES, SIMPLE — Refined carbohydrates (sugars) that have lower molecular weights than complex carbohydrates. They produce a quick rise in blood-sugar levels. Most nutrition counselors recommend that daily diets contain minimal amounts of refined sugars. So-called “junk foods” are frequently very high in simple carbohydrates.

CARDIAC CATHETER — A slender tube that is inserted into an artery or vein and then passed into the heart. It is used to artery or vein and then passed into the heart. It is used to examine the heart and nearby blood vessels by injecting material into the heart that X-rays can detect.

CARDIAC CATHETERIZATION — Studying heart function with a cardiac catheter.

CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION (CPR) — Emergency treatment for a patient whose heart has stopped (cardiac arrest).

CARDIOVASCULAR — Relating to the heart and blood vessels.

CARDIOVASCULAR SURGEON — Doctor specially trained to operate on the heart and blood vessels.

CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM — System that supplies the body with blood. It consists of the heart and blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, veins).

CAROTID ARTERIES — Large arteries that supply much of the blood to the brain.

CARTILAGE — Rubbery, dense connective tissue that permits smooth movement of joints. It also helps shape flexible parts of the nose and external ear.

CARUNCLE — Small, red protrusion of tissue near a body opening. The most common caruncles arise from the urethra or cervix.

CAT (OR CT) SCAN (COMPUTERIZED AXIAL TOMOGRAPHY) — A computerized X-ray procedure that provides exceptionally clear images of parts of the body. It aids in diagnosis of diseases that cannot be diagnosed by ordinary X-ray methods.

CATHETER — A hollow tube used to introduce fluids into the body or to drain fluids away.

CAUDAL ANESTHESIA — Form of local (low-spinal) anesthesia used to reduce pain during childbirth and surgery on pelvic areas.

CAUTERANT — Chemical used to destroy abnormal or diseased cells on the skin.

CAUTERIZATION — The destruction of tissue with an electric current, a hot iron, or a caustic chemical substance.

CAUTERY — Destroying small areas of diseased tissue by burning with an electric needle or laser beam, freezing with low-temperature instruments or using a chemical that destroys tissue.

CECUM — The part of the intestinal tract at the beginning of the large colon (intestine).

CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM — System that controls the body’s voluntary acts. It consists of the brain and spinal cord.

CERVICAL SPINE — Bones in the neck at the top of the spinal column.

CERVIX — Lower third of the uterus, which protrudes into the vagina.

CESAREAN SECTION — Delivery of a baby through incisions in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. It is performed when normal vaginal delivery would be dangerous for the mother or baby.

CHANCRE — Hard, slightly ulcerated, painless lesion that forms where syphilis enters the body, usually on the genital lips.

CHEMOCAUTERY — Destruction of abnormal tissue by means of acids, caustics, or poisons.

CHEMOTHERAPY — Treatment of cancer by injecting medications that kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. It is used to treat cancers that cannot be completely cured or treated with surgery or radiation.

CHIGGERS — Small red biting insects. Also called “red bugs.”

CHILD — Person in the first 10 years of life.

CHIROPRACTOR — Practitioner of chiropractic treatment of disease, which involves massage and manipulations that chiropractors claim restore normal body functions.

CHOKES — Severe breathing difficulty experienced by scuba divers and others who go from high to normal air pressure too rapidly. Bubbles of nitrogen develop in the blood stream and obstruct the blood supply to vital organs, sometimes resulting in severe injury or death.

CHOLANGIOGRAM, CHOLANGIOGRAPHY — X-ray procedures to diagnose diseases of the bile system (liver, gallbladder, bile ducts). Special medications are used to make the bile system visible on X-rays.

CHOLERA — Acute, severe, infectious disease causing extreme diarrhea and dehydration.

CHOROIDITIS — Inflammation of the part of the eye that supports the retina and supplies blood to it.

CHROMOSOME — Structures inside the nucleus of living cells that contain hereditary information. Defects in chromosomes cause many birth defects and inherited diseases.

CHRONIC — Long-term, continuing. Chronic illnesses are usually not curable, but they can often be prevented from worsening. Symptoms usually can be controlled.

CINEMATOGRAPHY — Form of motion-picture photography used to record a fast-moving series of X-ray images.

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM — The system that provides blood to the body, consisting of the heart, arteries, veins, and lymphatic system.

CLINICIAN — Health-care professional who has direct contact with patients. The word literally means “someone who is at the patient’s bedside.”

CLIPS — See Skin Clips.

CLOT RETRACTION TEST — Measurement of the time necessary for a tube of blood to form a clot. Abnormal results often indicate a defect in blood platelets, cells important in blood coagulation.

CLOTTING — Activity of the blood and blood vessels that cause blood to form a jellylike clot, usually near an injury. Clotting helps stop bleeding. The body’s clotting mechanism is slowed or reduced (“thinning the blood”) with anticoagulants to treat certain diseases.

CLUBFOOT — Malformation at birth of foot and ankle bones. The heel turns in under the ankle, the inner edge of the foot turns upward, and the front of the foot turns in toward the other. Treatment consisting of straightening and holding the position in casts must start within a few days of birth. New casts are applied every week until age 3 months, then at longer intervals. If casting is not successful, surgery can correct the problem.

COAGULATION — Same as Clotting.

COCAINE — Medication applied directly to mucous membranes to control pain in the nose and throat. Used illegally as a mind-altering drug, it is addicting and dangerous.

COLIC, COLICKY — A pain that recurs in a regular pattern every few second or minutes.

COLLAGEN — A gelatinous protein from which body tissues are formed.

COLON — The last major portion of the gastrointestinal tract, where waste material is formed into feces and held for elimination. It is also known as the large intestine.

COLONOSCOPY — Method of diagnosing diseases of the colon by visual examination of the inside of the colon through a flexible colonoscope, a fiber-optic instrument with a lighted tip.

COLOR-BLINDNESS — Inability to recognize red and green, which appear to be gray. It is usually hereditary.

COLPOSCOPY — Visual examination of the cervix by means of a colposcope, a slender optical instrument with a lighted tip.

COMA (LATIN: “DEEP SLEEP”) — A state of unconsciousness from which a person cannot be aroused. Coma can be caused by any substance, disease, or injury that disrupts the brain system controlling alertness and awareness. Some specific causes are head injuries, meningitis, alcohol, sedatives, drugs of abuse, encephalitis, diabetic coma or hypoglycemia, seizures, congenital heart disease, anemias, hydrocephalus, stroke, brain tumors, hypothyroidism. Most of the time drowsiness, stupor, and deep stupor will precede coma. The pulse is slower than normal and blood pressure is frequently high. Treatment includes stabilization of circulation and breathing, lowering the pressure of fluid inside the skull, and monitoring all body functions. These may require medicines, surgery, or both.

COMBINED IMMUNODEFICIENCY DISEASE — Serious inherited disease in which the immune system of infants is unable to defend against disease.

COMPLICATION — Undesirable event during disease or treatment that causes further symptoms and delay in recovery.

COMPRESS — Cloth, sometimes soaked in warm water or coated with medication. It is applied to the skin to relieve discomfort.

COMPRESSION — Applying pressure to the surface of the body, usually to stop bleeding.

COMPULSION, COMPULSIVE — Intense, irrational urge to perform some action.

CONDOM — A thin sheath, usually of rubber, applied to the penis before sexual intercourse. It is used to prevent disease of the genitals and as a contraceptive.

CONGENITAL — Abnormality of the body, present at birth, usually meaning a defect. Congenital defects may be inherited or caused by conditions occurring while the fetus grows in the uterus.


CONIZATION OF THE CERVIX — Removal of a cone of tissue from the cervix. Laboratory examination of the removed tissue identifies possible cancer.

CONJUNCTIVA — The mucous membrane lining the outermost surface of the eye (“white of the eye”).

CONNECTIVE TISSUE — Body’s supporting framework of tissue consisting of strands of collagen, elastic fibers, and simple cells.

CONTACT LENSES — Small plastic lenses worn on the eyes to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism.

CONTAGIOUS — Disease or condition that spreads from one person to another.

CONVALESCENCE — Recovery from an illness or surgery.

COPD (CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE) — Several usually incurable lung diseases associated with gradually increasing breathing difficulty.

COPIOUS — Large in amount.

CORNEA — Clear thickened surface of the eye through which light passes. It has no blood supply and can be transplanted without danger of rejection.

CORONARY — Referring to the blood vessels supplying the heart. Sometimes, it refers to a heart attack resulting from coronary-artery obstruction.

CORONARY CARE UNIT (CCU) — Area of a hospital equipped to care for patients who have suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening heart conditions.

CORTISONE DRUGS — Medications similar to natural hormones produced by the central core of the adrenal glands.

COSMETIC SURGERY — Surgery to improve appearance.

COXSACKIE VIRUSES — Group of viruses causing infections such as poliomyelitis, aseptic meningitis, herpangina, and myocarditis.

CPR — See Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation.

CRANIOTOMY — An operation to open the cranium, the eight bones that form the vault to cradle the brain.

CRANIUM — Bones that make up the skull.

CRYOSURGERY — Destruction of abnormal tissue by applying freezing temperatures, usually with liquid nitrogen.

CRYOTHERAPY — The use of cold (below -200F) temperatures in treatment.

CT SCAN — See CAT Scan.

CULDOCENTESIS — Piercing of the space deep in the vagina under the cervix, to obtain fluid. Laboratory examination of the removed fluid aids in diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy and other disorders.

CULDOSCOPY — Visual examination of the female pelvic organs by means of a slender instrument brought into the pelvic cavity by penetrating through the space deep in the vagina under the cervix.

CULTURE — Identification of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Material (pus, blood, or urine) from an area infected is collected, placed on nutrient material, and kept warm (usually in an incubator) until the infecting agent has grown. The resulting growth is examined with a microscope.

CURETTAGE — Scraping process frequently used to obtain tissue from the lining of the uterus for laboratory examination. Laboratory examination of the removed tissue aids in diagnosis.

CURETTE — Instrument with a sharp end used to scrape tissue from the inner lining of the uterus and to scrape away skin lesions.

CYST — Sac or cavity filled with fluid or diseased matter.

CYST ASPIRATION — Removal of cyst contents for examination, or drainage for relief of symptoms.

CYSTOSCOPY — Visual examination of the inside of the urinary bladder by means of a cystoscope, a slender optical instrument with a lighted tip.

CYTOTOXIC DRUGS — Medications used to destroy cancerous cells with minimal harm to healthy cells.


D.C. CONVERSION — A procedure using paddles through which direct current passes. The current is carefully measured. The organ targeted is usually a diseased or injured heart with an abnormal rhythm or a heart that has stopped beating.

DEBILITATING — Causing a general weakening or deterioration in health.

DEFIBRILLATION, CARDIAC — Applying an electric current to the chest over the heart to interrupt fibrillation, a disturbance of heartbeat.

DEHYDRATION — Loss of essential fluids from the tissues and blood of the body.

DEPENDENCE — Condition in which a person requires substances such as narcotics or alcohol to remain comfortable. If the substances are not used, withdrawal symptoms develop.

DERMATOME — Area of the skin to which feeling (sensation) is provided by a nerve to the spinal cord.

DESCENDING COLON — The part of the colon in the left side of the abdomen that stores feces until they are passed from the body.

DIABETIC RETINOPATHY — Degeneration of the retina that develops in patients with diabetes mellitus. It may cause vision impairment or blindness.

DIAGNOSIS — Identifying disease. A complete diagnosis names the part of the body affected, the disease process (such as inflammation, cancer, or allergy) and the cause of disease.

DIALYSIS — Removal of natural wastes from the bloodstream. It is used to treat patients with kidney failure.

DIAPHRAGM — Thin, broad sheet of muscle separating the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.

DIATHERMY — Treatment in which mild heat is generated within the body by high-frequency radio waves.

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM — Organs in which food is processed for absorption into the bloodstream. The major digestive organs are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, small bowel (small intestine), colon (large intestine), and rectum. The liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are also considered parts of the digestive system.

DIGITALIS — A drug used to treat congestive heart failure and some other heart diseases.

DILATE, DILATION — To widen, expand, or open up.

DILATOR — Instrument used to widen organs that have narrowed because of disease.

DISCOLORED TEETH — A yellowish-brown discoloration of the teeth frequently occurring in infants whose mothers took tetracycline while pregnant. Children may also be affected if they take tetracycline before they have their permanent teeth.

DISCOMFORT — Unpleasant physical or mental sensation.

DISEASE — Adverse change in health; sickness or ailment. A disease can be defined by the body part involved (for example, the heart or liver), by the abnormality present (cancer, infection, allergy, degeneration, etc.) or by its cause (bacteria, poisons, injury, etc.).

DISK — Same as Intervertebral Disk.

DISORDER — Same as Disease.

DIURETICS — Medications that force the kidneys to excrete more urine, sodium, and potassium than normal, which helps eliminate excessive body fluid.

DIVERTICULUM — Small pouch or sac that develops in the wall of tubular organs such as the esophagus or colon.

DIZZINESS — Sensation of faintness, lightneadedness, or spinning (vertigo).

DONOR — Person who gives to someone else. In transplantation surgery, the donor gives up an organ (such as a kidney) to be transplanted into the recipient.

DOPPLER SONOGRAPHY — See Sonogram: this is one of several methods of sonography.

DORMANT — Sleeping or inactive state of living things. Also, an inactive state of a disease.

DRAINAGE — Passage of fluids out of the body through an opening or incision.

DUCTUS ARTERIOSUS — Small blood vessel connecting the aorta and the pulmonary artery, which is the main artery to the lung. The vessel is open during the time the fetus is in the uterus, but normally closes at birth.

DUODENUM — First 12 inches of the small intestine.

DUPUYTREN’S CONTRACTURE — Chronic condition in which scar tissue forms in the palms. In severe cases, it can impair use of the fingers.

DWARFISM — Condition of being undersized for one’s age. It may be due to endocrine disorders, malnutrition, or an inherited defect.

DYSPROTEINEMIA — An abnormality of the protein content of the blood.


EAR CANAL — Passageway extending from the outer ear inward to the eardrum.

EAR, NOSE, AND THROAT (ENT) SPECIALIST — A physician specially trained to treat diseases of the ears, nose, and throat.

ECHOCARDIOGRAM, ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY — Studying the heart by examining sound waves created by an instrument placed on the chest. The waves reflected from the heart form an image (echocardiogram) on a minitor, aiding in diagnosis of heart diseases.

EDEMA — Accumulation of fluid under the skin, in the lungs, or elsewhere.

EEG (ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAPHY) — Studying the brain by measuring electric activity (“brain waves”) with an electroencephalo_graph. The record produced is the electroencephalogram.

EKG (ELECTROCARDIOGRAPHY) — Method of diagnosing heart diseases by measuring electrical activity of the heart with an electrocardiograph. The record produced is called an electrocardiogram.


ELECTROCAUTERY — Destruction of tissue by heat applied with a controlled electric current.


ELECTROLYTE — A chemical that is dissolved in the blood and all other body fluids. Electrolytes play an essential tole in all body functions. The major electrolytes are: sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and carbon dioxide. Electrolytes come from food. They are regulated mostly by the kidneys and lungs.

ELECTROLYTE MEASUREMENT — Laboratory test on blood or urine to identify and measure the electrolytes present.

ELECTROLYTE SUPPLEMENTS — Electrolytes taken to correct or to prevent body-fluid or electrolyte imbalance.

ELECTROMYOGRAPHY — Studying nerve and muscle disorders by recording electrical activity of muscles with an electromyograph. The record produced is the electromyogram.

ELECTROSURGERY — Minor surgery performed with an electric current sent through an electric cauterizing instrument. It not only destroys tissue, but also controls bleeding.

ENDEMIC — Disease that is constantly present in a community or group of people. Endemic disease may affect only a few people at any one time.

ENDOCRINE SYSTEM — System of organs that secrete hormones into the blood to regulate basic functions of cells and tissues. The endocrine organs are the anterior and posterior pituitary glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands, pancreas, adrenal glands, ovaries (in women), and testicles (in men).

ENDOCRINOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained in diagnosis and treatment of endocrine disorders.

ENDOSCOPY — Method of diagnosing diseases in hollow organs. An endoscope (an optical instrument with a lighted tip) is inserted into the organ, which allows visual examination of the cavity. Used in the abdomen, pelvis, lumen of the bronchial tubes, or intestines.

ENDOTRACHEAL TUBE — Tube temporarily placed in the grachea (windpipe) of patients who are unable to breathe normally because of disease or surgery.

ENTERIC — Relating to the small intestine. Enteric-coated medicine is coated with a hard shell that dissolves when it reaches the small intestine.

ENTEROSTOMY — Surgically created artificial opening for elimination of feces. An enterostomy nurse or enterostomy specialist is a professional who teaches patients how to care for the artificial opening.

ENZYMES — Proteins manufactured by the body that regulate the rate of essential life processes (metabolism).

EPINEPHRINE — Same as Adrenalin.

EPISCLERITIS — Inflammation of tissues on the sclera (the “white of the eye”).

EPITHELIAL HORN — Thick, rough lesion protruding from the skin. It may become cancerous if not removed.

EQUINE VIRUS — Virus that causes a serious form of encephalitis in horses and man.

ERGOT — Medication derived from a fungus that grows on rye plants. It is used to treat migraine headache and to increase the strength of uterine contractions during and immediately after childbirth.

ESOPHAGEAL VARICES — Enlarged veins on the lining of the esophagus. They are subject to severe bleeding and often appear in patients with severe liver disease.

ESOPHAGOSCOPY — Method of diagnosing diseases of the esophagus by means of an esophagoscope, an optical instrument with lenses and a lighted tip.

ESOPHAGUS — Muscular tube connecting the throat and stomach.

ESTROGEN — Female sex hormone, primarily secreted by the ovaries. It can also be produced synthetically for use in estrogen replacement therapy.

ESTROGEN RECEPTOR VALUE — Used in the study of breast-cancer cells to determine the best treatment.

ETIOLOGY — Cause or causes of a disease.

EUSTACHIAN TUBES — Slender passages between the throat and the middle ear that maintain normal air pressure in the middle ear.

EXCISE — To remove by cutting out.

EXPLORATORY LAPAROTOMY — Diagnosing abdominal disease by surgically opening the abdomen and examining its contents.

EXTREMITIES — Arms and legs.

EYE BANK — Facility where living corneas are stored and made available for transplantation.

EYES, CROSSED — Condition in which muscles controlling the eyes are unbalanced. The eyes point in different directions. Also called squint or strabismus.


FALLOPIAN TUBES — Organs of the female reproductive tract through which an egg (ovum) passes from the ovary to the uterus. Tying these tubes (tubal ligation) accomplishes sterility.

FAMILIAL POLYPOSIS — Inherited condition in which the lining of the intestines contains many polyps, some of which may become cancerous.

FAMILY HISTORY — Information about illnesses that tend to occur within a family. This information is used to determine the likelihood of diseases occurring in other members of the family.

FARSIGHTEDNESS — Same as Hypermetropia.

FASCIA — Sheet or band of tough, fibrous tissue that covers muscles and other body organs.

FECAL — Relating to feces, waste products eliminated through the lower intestinal tract.

FECAL-ORAL — Pathway by which some fecal germs gain entry into the bloodstream. Sewage in drinking water, hand-to-mouth transmission after bowel movements or sexual contact can cause infection.

FECES — Body waste formed of undigested food that has passed through the gastrointestinal system to the colon. Feces are produced and stored in the colon until eliminated.

FETAL MONITORING — Measuring the heart rate of the fetus during labor.

FETAL-SCALP ELECTRODES — Fine wires attached to the scalp of a fetus to measure heart rate and rhythm during labor.

FETAL-SCALP MONITORING — Measuring the well-being of the fetus during labor by obtaining blood from the scalp or by measuring the heart rate of the fetus or contraction strength of the uterus.

FEVER — A body temperature that is an elevation above normal of at least 1 degree. Critical points of fever that require treatment are as follows (all rectal temperatures): 6 months or younger–100F (37.8C) or higher; 6 months to 3 years–102F (38.8C); any age–fever accompanied by unusual drowsiness and loss of alertness, labored breathing, or otherwise appears ill. Fever is a sign of disease, not a disease itself. It may be caused by bacterial infections, viral infections, reactions to drugs, heatstroke, dehydration, or fevers of undetermined origin. Low-grade fever can be helpful by stimulating the production of white blood cells and speeding up the body’s immune system — both providing useful defense mechanisms for fighting disease. Treatment of fever should be under the direction of your physician.

FIBER — A non-nutritious ingredient of many complex carbohydrates. Fiber increases bulk in the diet. Many nutritionists recommend including ample fiber in the diet. Experimental studies and clinical studies show that people who eat high-fiber diets are less likely to develop colon cancer, diverticulitis, atherosclerosis, and gallbladder disease.

FIBER OPTICS — System of transmitting light and images through thread-like strands of glass. Fiber-optic instruments make some examinations and surgical procedures simple, safe, and effective.

FIBRIN — Protein formed by the action of blood clotting on fibrogen.

FIBRINOGEN — Protein in the blood needed for blood clotting.

FIBROSITIS — Inflammatory conditions affecting connective tissue of muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons.

FIRST MOLARS — First permanent flat teeth, used for grinding food, which appear at about age 6 to 7.

FISSURE — Break in the skin or inner lining of organs.

FISTULA — Abnormal passage between two organs or between the body and the outside.

FLANK — Area on the side of the body below the ribs and above the hip.

FLEAS — Tiny biting insects. Most cause minor skin irritation; some carry and transmit serious diseases such as plague and typhus.

FLUORESCEIN-DYE TEST — Method of diagnosis using fluorescein, a dye, to study tissues and germs. When these dyed tissues are exposed to ultraviolet light, they glow. Substances to which the dye does not cling do not glow.

FLUORESCENT ANTIBODY STUDIES — Tests used to study some allergic and infectious conditions. When antibodies created by these conditions are present in the blood, they can be made to glow by using a dye and a microscope with ultraviolet light.

FLUOROSCOPY — Method of X-ray diagnosis in which moving organs (such as the heart or intestinal tract) can be studied in action.

FOLEY CATHETER — Slender, flexible tube used to drain urine from the bladder of patients who are unable to urinate normally.

FORCEPS — Instrument with two blades and handles. It is used to grasp tissue, body parts, or sterile materials. Also used to deliver babies when progress of labor is slow.

FRACTURE — Break; usually used to refer to a bone or tooth.

FREI TEST — Test used to make a precise diagnosis of lymphogranuloma, a sexually transmitted disease.

FRIEDREICH’S ATAXIA — Rare, inherited nervous-system disease that causes loss of balance and coordination, awkward walking, speech difficulty, and tremors.

FROZEN SECTION — A study in a pathology laboratory of fresh tissue that was removed during surgery. The purpose is to determine if a suspicious area is or is not cancerous.

FUNGUS — Mold or yeast that may infect skin, internal surfaces (mouth, vagina), or tissues.

FUNGUS INFECTION — Infection caused by fungus.


GALACTORRHEA — 1) Continued breast-milk flow after weaning. 2) Excess breast-milk flow during nursing.

GALACTOSEMIA — Inherited disease of infants in which milk cannot be digested. Milk should be eliminated from the infant’s diet to prevent malnutrition, liver and kidney disease, and mental retardation.

GALLBLADDER — Small organ under the liver that stores bile. For digestion, the gallbladder contracts to empty bile into the intestines.

GAMMA GLOBULIN — Protein in the blood manufactured by the immune system to help destroy or neutralize infection-causing germs. Gamma globulin derived and concentrated from blood of other humans is used to help create temporary immunity to some diseases.

GAMMAGLOBULINEMIA — Extremely low levels in the blood of gamma globulin brought about by a disease of the immune system. The deficiency causes increased susceptibility to many infections by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Also called hypogammaglobulinemia.

GANGRENE — Death of tissue, usually due to partial or total loss of blood supply.

GASTRECTOMY — Removal of part or all of the stomach.

GASTROENTEROLOGIST — Doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal system.

GASTROINTESTINAL SERIES (UPPER GI SERIES) — X-rays of the upper digestive system (esophagus, stomach, and duodenum).


GASTROSCOPY — Visual examination of the inside of the stomach by means of a gastroscope, an optical instrument with a lighted tip.

GENE — Basic unit of protein molecules in chromosomes of cells. Genes transmit inherited characteristics such as eye color, blood type, gender, or body shape. Defective genes cause many kinds of birth defects and inborn diseases.

GENE, DOMINANT OR RECESSIVE — Dominant gene, if present in either the mother’s egg or father’s sperm, will transmit its characteristics to the newborn child. Recessive genes must be present in both parents before its characteristics will be transmitted.

GENERAL SURGEON — A doctor specially trained to perform operations.

GENETIC COUNSELING — Counseling to help couples decide whether to have children or not when there is a risk of genetic disease being transmitted to the child.

GENETICS — Science of determining inherited factors that result in the unique make-up of every human being; also, science that traces the appearance patterms to genetic (inherited) disease.

GENITOURINARY TRACT — Body system that forms, stores, and eliminates urine. Also has a role in male and female reproductive functions. Organs include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra, uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, and testicles.

GERMAN MEASLES, CONGENITAL — A virus infection in a fetus or newborn caused by a virus spreading in the bloodstream of the mother during pregnancy and passing through the placenta to the unborn child. Symptoms include prematurity, heart disease, visual problems, brain damage, hearing loss, pneumonia, thyroid problems, diabetes, hemolytic anemia, and others.

GERMS — Organisms that cause infection such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

GESTATION — Time spent in the mother’s uterus by the fetus. Average gestation time for the human infant, from conception to delivery, is approximately 39 weeks.

GIGANTISM — Condition in which the body or a body part grows excessively, sometimes due to an overactive pituitary gland.

GLOMERULONEPHRITIS — An inflammatory disorder of the kidney secondary to an allergic reaction to the streptococcus germ. This is one of the possible complications of a strep infection. It can usually be prevented by adequate treatment of the original strep infection with penicillin or other suitable antibiotic.

GLUCAGON — Hormone secreted by the pancreas that increases blood sugar. A synthetic form is sometimes used as emergency treatment for patients with diabetes who have temporarily low blood sugar.

GLUCOSE — Major form of sugar in the blood, stored primarily in the liver. It provides energy to most tissues, organs, and systems.

GLUCOSE-TOLERANCE TEST — Method of diagnosing diabetes mellitus or functional hypoglycemia. The patient drinks a measured amount of glucose (sugar). The blood and urine are tested at measured intervals for glucose content.

GLUTEN — Protein found in wheat and other foods that cannot be digested by some persons because of genetic disease. A gluten-free diet allows persons with the disorder to digest food and grow normally.

GONADS — Parts of the reproductive system that produce and release female eggs (ovaries) or male sperm (testes).

GROWING PAINS — Harmless, normal, temporary aches and pains in a child’s growing limbs. Vigorous use of incompletely developed muscles and bones causes the discomfort. Very common during ages 6 to 12 years. The discomfort most likely involves the thighs, calves, and feet, but also may affect the arms or back muscles. The pains occur only when the child is at rest. Most physicians recommend no treatment except gentle massage, heating pads, or warm-water soaks. There is no known way to prevent growing pains.

GROWTH DISORDERS — Conditions in children that result in underdevelopment or overdevelopment of the body. Diseases of the endocrine glands, nutritional problems, or genetic abnormalities are frequently the causes.

GYNECOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to treat diseases of the female reproductive system.


H-2 BLOCKER DRUGS — Class of antihistamines that reduce the production of stomach acid for treatment of peptic ulcers.

HALLUCINOGENS — Substances that produce hallucinations, apparent sights, sounds, or other experiences that do not actually exist.

HAND SURGEON — Surgeon specially trained to treat hand diseases, injuries, infections, and arthritic conditions.

HANGOVER — Unpleasant aftereffects of excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Symptoms include irritability, headache, and nausea. Sometimes, the same feelings result from using certain medications.

HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS — One of several kinds of inflammation of the thyroid gland.

HEAD BANGING AND ROCKING — A common, usually harmless, habit. The child hits his head against a solid object in a rhythmical way. Head banging first appears between 6 and 12 months of age and disappears before 3 years. This habit is 3 times more common in boys than girls and occurs in 5-10(enb) of all children. This habit is closely associated with rocking, also a harmless habit. The cause of either banging or rocking is unknown. Head banging may also be a part of the symptoms of children with other disorders, including autism, mental retardation, blindness, and hearing loss. If rhythmical behavior begins after 18 months, consult your physician.

HEARING LOSS — An inability to hear the range of sounds that the human ear normally detects. Hearing loss comes in many degrees and may affect either or both ears — slight to total, temporary or permanent, congenital or acquired. Over half the time, no cause is found. Known causes of conductive loss include middle ear inflammation or infection, wax in the ear canal (easily curable), or a foreign body in the ear (curable). Causes of sensorineural loss (nerve deafness, due to malfunction of the internal ear, brain, or nervous system) include drug and alcohol abuse in the mother, lack of oxygen during birth, maternal German measles, herpes, chickenpox, syphilis, mumps, parasite infections such as toxoplasmosis, or severe jaundice during the newborn period. Treatment depends upon the underlying cause. See your physician for guidance. Treatments include hearing aids, learning sign language, finger spelling, body language, lip-reading, TTY machines. For more information, write: National Association of the Deaf, 814 Thayer Avenue, Silver Springs, MD 20910, (301) 587-1788. Preventing hearing loss: females of childbearing age should be immunized against German measles and other severe viruses before becoming pregnant. Don’t allow children to put anything in their ears; prevent noise pollution by too loud rock music or headphones; prevent head injuries by having everyone in your family use auto restraints and insisting upon appropriate protective headgear for sports; treat your child’s middle ear infections vigorously.

HEART CATHETERIZATION — Same as Cardiac Catheterization.

HEART DISEASE, CONGENITAL — A heart defect present at birth, caused by abnormal development before birth. Many children with congenital heart disease have multiple congenital defects. Types of congenital heart disease include the following: Septal defects–abnormal openings in the wall that divides the right and left chambers of the heart. Sometimes treated with surgery. Patent ductus arteriosus–failure to close soon after birth of a special channel between the arteries that carry blood between the aorta and the pulmonary artery. Treated successfully with surgery. Tetralogy of Fallot–a combination of four different anatomical structures of the heart. Treated successfully with surgery. Transposition of the great arteries–the pulmonary artery arises from the left ventricle and the aorta arises from the right ventricle. Must be treated surgically promptly after delivery in order to preserve life. Coarctation of the aorta–a narrowing of the aorta (the main artery that carries blood from the heart to all parts of the body). Among other problems, this congenital defect causes high blood pressure. Coarctation of the aorta is curable with surgery. Aortic and pulmonary stenosis — narrow valves between the lower chambers (ventricles) and the two large arteries leading away from the heart. Surgery will cure.

HEART MURMUR — Same as Murmur.

HEART TUMORS — Rare tumors that grow in the heart wall or in the heart chambers, interfering with normal heart function.

HEART-LUNG MACHINE — Complex mechanical device that provides artificial function of a patient’s heart and lungs for a short time during open-heart surgery and heart or lung transplantation.

HEMATOCRIT — Blood test used to detect anemia and other blood disorders. It is expressed as the percentage of blood made up of red blood cells (the remainder of the blood is made up of serum or plasma). The normal hematocrit range is approximately 35(enb) to 45(enb), but it varies with age and sex.

HEMATOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs.

HEMOCHROMATOSIS — Disease in which excessive iron accumulates in the liver, pancreas, and skin, resulting in liver disease, diabetes mellitus, and a bronzed skin color.

HEMOGLOBIN, HEMOGLOBIN RANGE — 1) Component that carries oxygen to body tissues. 2) Blood test used to detect anemia and other blood disorders, expressed in grams per 100 cubic centimeters. The normal hemoglobin range is approximately 12 to 18 grams per 100 cubic centimeters and varies according to age and sex.

HIRSCHSPRUNG’S DISEASE — Congenital defect of infants in which the colon cannot eliminate feces, resulting in severe constipation.

HISTAMINE — Chemical in body tissues that dilates the smallest blood vessels, constricts the muscle around the bronchial tubes, stimulates stomach secretions, and produces an allergic response.

HOLTER MONITOR — Instrument that detects heartbeat-rhythm abnormalities 24 hours or longer. The device is portable for patients to carry wherever they go.

HORMONES — Powerful substances manufactured by the endocrine glands and carried by the blood to body tissues and organs. Hormones determine growth and structure of many organs (such as during growth and maturation) and also control many vital body functions.

HOST — Person or animal with an infection that has been received from another person, animal or plant, or the environment.

HYALINE-MEMBRANE DISEASE — Serious condition of premature infants in which the lungs can’t expand normally. Cause is unknown.

HYDATIDIFORM MOLE — Disease occurring during early pregnancy resulting in death of the fetus and an overgrowth of tissue within the uterus.

HYDRAMINOS AND POLYHYDRAMINOS — Condition in which amniotic fluid (fluid in the uterus that surrounds the fetus until birth) becomes excessive.

HYGIENE — Personal self-care and cleanliness that reduces the risk of infections and diseases.

HYOID BONE — V-shaped bone located just above the larynx.

HYPERALIMENTATION — Method of supplying total nutritional needs of patients unable to eat normally. The method (usually intravenous or by tube through the nose into the stomach) provides nutrients containing essential proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins.

HYPERBARIC CHAMBER — Large, sealed room in which air pressure can be raised above normal levels. It is used primarily to treat patients with either decompression sickness or severe burns (sometimes).

HYPERCALCEMIA — Presence of excessive calcium in the blood; occasionally a sign of malignancy.

HYPERLIPOPROTEINEMIA — Condition in which excessive lipoproteins (cholesterol and other fatty materials) accumulate in the blood.

HYPERMETROPIA — Seeing distant objects clearly while nearby objects appear blurred; also called farsightedness.

HYPERSENSITIVITY — Extreme sensitivity to any agent (drugs, pollens, chemicals, etc.) that causes allergic reactions. Some reactions can be life-threatening, but most are less serious.

HYPNOTICS — Medications that produce sleep.

HYPOGAMMAGLOBULINEMIA — An abnormally low level of all classes of gamma globulin in the blood.

HYPOPLASTIC ANEMIA (APLASTIC ANEMIA) — Group of anemias that decrease blood-producing bone marrow. This can be life-threatening.

HYPOTHALAMUS — Part of the brain that regulates body functions such as temperature, blood pressure, appetite and thirst.

HYSTERIA — 1) Condition in which a person becomes anxious and excitable and experiences impaired sensory and motor abilities. Sometimes, hysterical persons simulate conditions of diseases such as deafness or blindness. 2) Outbreak of uncontrolled emotions, such as fits of laughing or crying.

HYSTEROSALPINGOGRAPHY — Studying the uterus and Fallopian tubes by injecting material into the uterus that X-rays can detect. It is used primarily to determine if the passageway for the ovum (egg) is open all the way to the uterus. The X-ray image is the hysterosalpingogram.

HYSTEROSCOPE — An instrument with lens system and lighted tip used in direct visual examination of the cervix and the cavity of the uterus.

HYSTEROSTOMY — Incision of the uterus to prepare for Cesarean-section delivery of a baby.


I-131 UPTAKE — Measuring thyroid activity with radioactive iodine and radiation emission counters.

IDIOPATHIC — Condition caused by unknown factors.

ILEOSTOMY — A surgical operation that creates an opening between the ilium (the last part of the small intestine) and the outside of the abdomen. Fecal contents will pass directly to the outside of the body after an iliostomy instead of progressing through the large intestine and rectum.

ILEUM — Part of the small intestine just above the large intestine (colon).

ILEUS — Condition of the small intestine in which either an obstruction or paralysis prevents material from passing through the intestine.

ILIAC ARTERIES — Large arteries in the inner pelvis that supply blood to the legs.

IMMUNE, IMMUNITY — Resistance or protection against infection by the body’s natural defenses. A person may be immune to one kind of infection but not immune to another. Some infections, such as measles, chickenpox, or mumps, cause the body to become immune permanently to that infection.

IMMUNE SYSTEM — Body’s system of defense against infection.

IMMUNIZATION — Producing immunity by giving a vaccine (orally or by injection) of germs that have been altered so they cannot produce significant disease. The vaccine causes the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that create immunity.

IMMUNOSUPPRESSANTS — Drugs used in immunosuppression treatment to weaken the immune system and to inhibit immune response.

IMMUNOSUPPRESSION — Prevention of the body from forming a normal immune response. It is used to treat diseases (especially when organs must be transplanted) where certain antibodies must be inactivated.

IMPOTENCE — Male’s inability to achieve or to sustain an erection or to ejaculate sperm during sexual intercourse.

INCISE, INCISION — To cut open or cut into.

INCOMPLETE SPONTANEOUS MISCARRIAGE — Naturally occurring miscarriage in which the fetus is expelled, but part of the placenta remains in the uterus. Excessive bleeding and infection can result unless the uterus is emptied, usually by dilatation and curettage of the uterus (D & C) or suction curettage.

INCUBATION PERIOD — The time between exposure to an infecting germ and the appearance of symptoms indicating an infection. Also describes the period of bacterial growth in laboratory cultures.

INFANT — Child between the ages of 2 weeks and 1 year.

INFECTION, INFECTIOUS — Disease caused by germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that enter the body and cause inflammation or other processes that have an adverse effect on health.

INFLAMMATION, INFLAMMATORY PROCESS — Process by which the body attempts to overcome illness-producing causes such as germs, injuries such as burns, or diseases such as arthritis. The process causes increased body heat (fever or local warmth), swelling, pain, and tenderness. If the inflammation is near the skin, redness results.

INHALATION — Breathing air into the lungs.

INHERITED — Body characteristic that is transmitted from one generation to the next by chromosomes in the mother’s egg and father’s sperm. Some inherited characteristics such as brown eyes are normal; others such as Down syndrome are disorders.

INOCULATION — Injection of infected material such as pus into a nutrient medium where the germs will grow, or incubate. They are then stained and analyzed through a microscope. Also describes any kind of immunization.

INSUFFLATION TEST — See Rubin’s Insufflation Test.

INTENSIVE CARE UNIT (ICU) — Area of a hospital where patients who are seriously ill or recovering from serious surgery are given more care than is available in other hospital units. As soon as the condition improves, the patient is transferred from the ICU to a regular hospital unit.

INTERMITTENT — Happening only occasionally or under certain conditions.

INTERNIST — Doctor specially trained in non-surgical diagnosis and treatment of diseases in adults.

INTERVERTEBRAL DISK — Cartilage that connects adjacent vertebrae in the spinal column.

INTESTINAL TRACT — All parts of the gastrointestinal tract except the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. The intestinal tract organs are: duodenum, small bowel, ileum, cecum, appendix, ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus.

INTESTINE, LARGE — Last major portion of the gastrointestinal tract located just under the small intestine. It is also called the colon or large bowel. It processes waste material into feces, which are stored until eliminated from the body.

INTESTINE, SMALL — Longest section of the gastrointestinal tract, located just under the stomach and duodenum. It absorbs digested food into the bloodstream and passes waste material into the large intestine.

INTRAUTERINE DEATH — Death of a fetus while inside the mother’s uterus.

INTRAUTERINE DEVICE (IUD) — Birth-control method in which a small device placed permanently in the uterus prevents growth of fertilized eggs.

INTRAVENOUS — Within the vein. Fluids, medications, and nutrients that cannot be taken orally are given intravenously by a needle placed in a large vein near the surface of the skin.

INTRAVENOUS PYELOGRAM (IVP) — See Pyelogram, Intravenous.

IQ (INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT) — Supposedly a measure of a person’s intelligence, rather than what one has learned. Recent research on intelligence raises questions about the accuracy and meaning of the I.Q. test.

IRIDECTOMY — Surgery performed to treat some kinds of glaucoma.

IRRIGATION — Flooding with water or other liquid. It is used frequently to clean wounds or areas of the body that will undergo surgery.

ISOLATION, REVERSE ISOLATION — Procedures to prevent spread of infection in a hospital. Isolation protects hospital staff and visitors from contracting a contagious disease from a patient. Reverse isolation protects a patient susceptible to infection because of immunosuppression from contracting infection from hospital staff or visitors.

IUD — See Intrauterine Device.


JAUNDICE — Yellow skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine and light stools, symptoms of diseases of the liver and blood.

JOINT — Structure that enables two or more bones to move easily in relation to each other. A joint consists of ligaments and cartilage that hold bones together.

JOINT CAPSULE — Tough, fibrous tissue that surrounds a joint.

JOINT REPLACEMENT — Replacement of diseased joints with mechanical joints. The wrist, hip and knee joints are among the most common joints replaced.


KETOACIDOSIS — Serious complication of diabetes mellitus in which the body produces acids that cause fluid and electrolyte disorders, dehydration, and sometimes coma.

KLINEFELTER’S SYNDROME — Inherited disease of young males in which secondary sex characteristics are underdeveloped. The condition does not become evident until puberty. Mental deficiency and some female characteristics are present.


LACERATION — Wound with jagged edges.

LACTIFEROUS DUCTS — Network of tubes in the female breast that collects milk and delivers it to the nipple.

LAPAROSCOPY — Exploratory examination of the organs inside the abdominal cavity with a laparoscope, an optical instrument with a lighted tip. The laparoscope is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision. Visual examination can then be made of many abdominal organs.

LAPAROTOMY — Exploratory surgery in the abdomen performed to diagnose and sometimes treat abdominal disease.

LARYNGEAL NERVE — Nerve located in the neck that controls the vocal cords and enables a person to speak.

LARYNX — Structure of muscle and cartilage in the upper neck. It contains the vocal cords. Air passes through the larynx into the windpipe and then into the lungs. The “Adam’s apple” is part of the larynx.

LASER THERAPY — Using a laser beam to treat many diseases. Sharply focused laser light creates intense heat and is valuable in cutting tissue, destroying unwanted tissue, and joining tissue together. It is most often used to treat retinal detachment, endometriosis, or atherosclerosis.

LATENT — Present but inactive; something that exists in an undeveloped form.

LAXATIVES — Medications used to treat constipation.

LESION — General term for injury or damage to an organ or tissue.

LETHARGY — Fatigue or lack of usual physical or mental energy.

LIBIDO — Sexual desire.

LIFE CYCLE — Growth and development from birth to death.

LIGAMENTS — Strong, flexible cords of tissue near joints that hold bones together and permit bone motion.

LIPOPROTEINS (HIGH DENSITY AND LOW DENSITY) — Components of the fluid in blood that are measured to help predict the likelihood of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

LIQUID NITROGEN — Nitrogen that has been cooled until it becomes a liquid. It is used most often in cryosurgery.

LOCAL ANESTHESIA — See Anesthesia, Local.

LOW-RESIDUE DIET — Diet consisting of foods that are digested almost entirely, leaving minimal material to form feces.

LOW-SPINAL ANESTHESIA — Also called “saddle-block” anesthesia. An injection into the lower spinal canal provides anesthesia to the lower body.

LOWER GI SERIES — Same as Barium-Enema X-rays.

LUMBAR PUNCTURE (SPINAL TAP) — A diagnostic procedure in which a needle is inserted between 2 bones (vertebrae) of the lower spine to collect spinal fluid for laboratory examination.

LUMBAR SPINE — Lower part of the spine, from the lowest ribs to the bottom of the spine.

LYMPH (OR LYMPHATIC) SYSTEM — Lymph channels and lymph glands considered as a single body system.

LYMPH CHANNELS — Tubes of tissue that carry lymph fluid away from tissues and back to the bloodstream. Lymph fluid is composed of proteins and water, varying in composition in different parts of the body.

LYMPH GLANDS — Small collections of tissue (nodes) located along lymph channels in areas such as the elbow, armpit, or groin. When infection is present, nearby lymph glands enlarge, become tender, and destroy germs that enter lymph channels. Lymph glands also manufacture antibodies to help fight infection.

LYMPHANGIOGRAM, LYMPHANGIOGRAPHY — Diagnostic method of studying the lymphatic system by infecting a material into the lymph channels that X-rays can detect. The image on X-ray film is the lymphangiogram.

LYMPHATIC LEUKEMIA — Class of leukemias, involving primarily lymphatic cells, affecting children and adults.

LYMPHOCYTES — One of several types of white blood cells that help fight infection.

LYMPHOSARCOMA — Class of cancers of the lymphatic system.


MACULAR DEGENERATION OF THE EYE — Condition of the macula (area on the retina that provides detailed vision) in which impaired blood supply causes gradual vision loss.

MACULE — General term for any discolored spot or patch on the skin, such as a freckle.

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI) — This test relies on the magnetic properties of the body’s atoms. It uses radiofrequency energy and a powerful magnetic field to produce computerized images in multiple planes with startling detail and resolution.

MALIGNANT — Capable of causing great harm, including death. It usually refers to cancerous growth.

MAMMOGRAM, MAMMOGRAPHY — Diagnostic method of studying the female breast by an X-ray technique that detects cancerous growths while they are still treatable. The image on X-ray film is the mammogram.

MANIC-DEPRESSIVE ILLNESS — Mental illness in which behavior alternates between unrealistic enthusiasm and deep depression.

MAO INHIBITORS — See Monamine Oxidase Inhibitors.

MARIJUANA — Mood-altering substance that is usually taken into the body by smoking. It is derived from Indian hemp or Cannabis leaves, stems, and seed pods.

MARROW — Core of many bones, where most of the body’s blood cells are produced.

MASTOIDITIS — Infection of the mastoid (bony area just behind the ear).

MASTURBATION — Stimulation of the genitals for pleasure. Normal behavior in infants, children, adolescents, and adults. Generally satisfying, particularly during times of separation, such as at bedtime. Stimulation of genitals will help release sexual tensions and gratify fantasies and may help control sex drives.

MEDIATORS — Substances that: 1) help nerve impulses travel from one cell to the next; 2) participate in the allergic process.

MEDIC-ALERT — Non-profit agency that maintains a medical-record system. Subscribers receive a bracelet or pendant that states their medical condition and provides a toll-free number for more information. The service can save the life of a person with a major medical condition who may not be able to provide a medical history. For information write: Medic-Alert Foundation, P.O. Box 1009, Tulock, CA 95381.

MEDICAL HISTORY — Essential facts about past and present medical conditions. Knowing your medical history enables your doctor to plan the best possible health care. Have your family carry a card stating essential health details in their purses or wallets, and consider joining the Medic-Alert program (see above).

MEIBOMIAN GLANDS — Small glands on the inner eyelid. They secrete a fluid that helps the eyelids move easily over the surface of the eye.

MEMBRANE — Thin tissue lining a body cavity, covering an internal organ or dividing a space.

MENINGES — Three-layered membrane covering the brain.

MENTAL RETARDATION — A disability in the area of thought, perception, and memory. These problems lead to slow development in language skills, learning, muscle control, poor social adaptation. Brain abnormalities from hundreds of diseases, genetic disorders, injuries, or physical deprivation. It may occur before birth or anytime after birth. Mental retardation cannot be cured, but disability can sometimes be reduced. Two good sources for support and detailed information: Association for Retarded Citizens/U.S., 2501 Avenue J, Arlington, TX 76011, (817)640-0204; Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, 1350 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005, (202)393-1250.

MENTAL SYSTEM (MIND) — Functions of the brain that provide the abilities to perceive surroundings, to have emotions, imagination, memory and will, and to process information.

METASTASES — Cancerous cells or infectious germs that spread from their original location to other parts of the body.

METATARSAL BONES — Bones in the middle of the foot.

MIDWIFE — Nurse with special training and experience in childbirth.

MOLE — Skin lesion, often dark-brown or black.

MONAMINE OXIDASE (MAO) INHIBITORS — Medications used to treat some forms of depression.

MOTOR NERVE — Nerve that transmits the stimulus that causes muscles to contract.

MUCOUS MEMBRANE — Thin tissue lining internal cavities (nose, mouth, vagina) and tubular systems (respiratory and gastrointestinal) that produce mucus.

MUCUS — Slippery liquid produced by the lining of internal cavities and tubular systems to protect tissue.

MURMUR — Sound of blood rushing through the heart and blood vessels, detected by a stethoscope. Some murmurs are innocent, meaning they are not caused by disease. Other murmurs arise from heart disease or partial obstruction in the arteries.

MUSCLE — Tissue that contracts, often with considerable force, when stimulated by the motor-nerve impulses.

MUSCLE BIOPSY — The surgical removal of a small amount of muscle tissue for laboratory microscopic examination.

MUSCLE RELAXANTS — Medications that relieve muscle spasms. They also can have significant side effects.

MUSCLE TUMORS — Benign or cancerous tumors arising from muscle tissue.

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM — The system of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that enable the body to move.

MYELOGRAM — Special X-ray of the spinal canal and spinal cord, requiring a spinal tap and injection of dye that is visible on X-ray film. Myelograms frequently are used to identify the location of ruptured disks.

MYOMA — Tumor of the muscle.

MYOPIA — Disease of the eye in which close objects are clearly visible while distant objects are blurred. Also called nearsightedness.


NAIL BITING — A frequent habit among children and adults. The majority of experts believe that nail biting results as a mechanism for discharging everyday tension, similar to thumb-sucking. Nail biting frequently accompanies fear, sadness, nervousness, or distress. Treatment: Try to provide an incentive to avoid nail biting, such as symbolic awards (stars on a calendar, etc.). Instill pride in good grooming. Don’t scold or lavish attention for negative behavior.

NARCOTICS — Medications used to control severe pain. Narcotics should be used only when necessary because of their serious side effects: addiction; reduced breathing; nausea and vomiting; low blood pressure; reduced cough reflex; and constipation.

NASO-GASTRIC TUBE — Slender tube passed through the nose into the stomach. It is used to drain away stomach secretions or to feed patients unable to eat normally.

NATUROPATHY — Health-care system relying on diet, sunshine, exercises, herbs, and other non-medicinal treatment.

NAUSEA — Unpleasant sensation of being about to vomit.


NEBULIZER — Device for administering medications used to treat asthma and similar conditions. It converts medication into a fine mist that is inhaled deeply into the lungs.

NEEDLE BIOPSY — A simplified form of removing tissue for microscopic examination using a needle inserted into the tissue to be studied. Tissue is removed by suction.

NERVE-BLOCK LOCAL ANESTHESIA — See Anesthesia, Nerve Block or Local.

NERVE-CONDUCTION TEST — Diagnostic test that measures the rate at which an electrical impulse moves along a nerve. It is used to diagnose disorders of the peripheral nerves and muscle.

NERVOUS BREAKDOWN — Non-technical term for mental illness serious enough to interfere with daily activities.

NEURITIS — Inflammation of a nerve.

NEUROBLASTOMA — A solid cancerous tumor of a nerve tissue that may spread to chest, abdomen, or pelvis. Treatment combines surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Before age 1, 90(enb) can be cured if treated vigorously.

NEUROLOGICAL — Relating to the body’s nervous system.

NEUROLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the nervous system.

NEUROMA — Tumor arising from nerve tissue.

NEURO-MUSCULAR SYSTEM — Nerves and muscles acting together as a system to control body movements.

NEUROSIS — Mental illness in which anxiety is controlled by avoidance, blaming others, developing bodily complaints, or other mechanisms.

NEUROSURGEON — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat surgically diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

NODES — See Lymph Glands.

NODULE — Small, rounded lump or firm swelling underneath the skin.

NON-STEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS — Medications that control inflammation other than that caused by infection. Usually used to treat conditions of the joints and muscles and pain such as menstrual cramps or headache. “Non-steroidal” means they are not steroid hormones such as cortisone, prednisone, dextramethasone, and others.

NURSE PRACTITIONER (NP) — Registered nurse with additional medical training who can diagnose and treat common illness. Nurse practitioners usually work closely with a doctor, although in some states the practitioner can prescribe medicine and work independently of a physician.

NUTRIENT — Food or material containing elements needed to promote growth and development or to support life.


OBSESSIONS — Unpleasant, frightening, senseless thoughts that won’t go away despite reasoning.

OBSTETRICIAN-GYNECOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to treat diseases of the female reproductive system and provide health care for pregnant mothers.

OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE — See COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

OCCLUSION — Closing or obstruction. Usually used to describe blockage in blood vessels. In dentistry, it means the way the teeth come together when the mouth is closed.

ONCOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer.

OPERATIVE DEATH RATE — Percentage of patients who die as a result of a certain surgery. It provides a general measure of the risk of a particular surgery.

OPHTHALMOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the eyes.

OPTIC NEURITIS — Inflammation of the nerve that conducts vision impulses from the eye to the brain.

ORAL — Relating to the mouth.

ORAL-FECAL — See Fecal-Oral.

ORGANIC — Conditions or diseases resulting from change in body organs that can be measured or seen. Organic diseases are distinct from functional diseases in which no change can be observed in an organ that is not functioning normally.

ORGANIC PSYCHOSIS — Mental illness that results from disease in the brain.

ORTHODONTIA — Straightening teeth by applying temporary braces.

ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON (ORTHOPEDIST) — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the muscles, bones, and joints, using surgical or mechanical means. A rheumatologist is an internist who diagnoses and treats similar conditions primarily with medications and other non-surgical means.

OSTEOGENESIS IMPERFECTA — Inherited condition in which the bones are brittle and easily broken.


OVARY — Female sexual gland where eggs mature and ripen for fertilization.

OVULATION — Monthly process in which an egg leaves the ovary for possible fertilization by a sperm cell.

OVUM — Egg produced by the ovary.


PAIN — Unpleasant sensation arising from stimulation of sensory nerves located in almost every part of the body. Disease, injury, and strenuous activity can all cause pain.

PALATE — Roof of the mouth, consisting of a bony front portion (hard palate) and a soft back portion (soft palate).

PALPITATIONS — Irregular rapid heartbeat, noticeable to the patient.

PANCREAS — Organ located on the back abdominal wall that produces and secretes digestive juices into the small intestine. It also produces and secretes insulin into the bloodstream to regulate the level of sugar and other nutrients.

PAP SMEAR — Test done to detect cancer of the cervix in an early and treatable stage.

PAPULE — Small, raised skin lesion. Papules may be red, brown, yellow, white, or skin-colored. They may be flat-topped, pointed, or dome-shaped.

PARANOIA — Mental illness in which a person believes that he or she is being talked about or plotted against.

PARASITE — Organism that lives within, upon, or at the expense of another living organism. Human parasites include disease-causing agents such as amoebas or worms that infect the digestive system, or fungi that live on the skin.

PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM — System of nerves that controls digestion, heartbeat, and relaxation or contraction of small muscles.

PARATHYROID GLANDS — Small glands that control calcium levels in the blood and bones. They are located within or next to the thyroid glands at the base of the neck.

PASSIVE EXERCISES — Exercises in which a therapist moves the arms and legs of a patient while the patient relaxes. These exercises keep the joints limber until the patient is able to move without assistance.

PATENCY — Blood vessels or any hollow organs that clog or become blocked are said to lose their patency.

PATHOLOGICAL — Relating to an abnormal condition.

PATHOLOGICAL EXAMINATION — Laboratory study of abnormal tissue to establish or confirm a diagnosis.

PEDIATRICIAN — Doctor specially trained to care for children and adolescents, especially to foster normal growth and development.

PEDICULICIDE — Medication that cures body lice (pediculosis). Usually applied to the skin.

PELVIC EXAMINATION — Examination of a woman’s reproductive organs to diagnose pregnancy or detect diseases.

PELVIC ULTRASONOGRAPHY — Examination of a woman’s reproductive organs that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image. It is used to determine the age, size, and position of a fetus in the uterus or to diagnose disease of the pelvic organs.

PELVIS — Lower part of the trunk of the body.

PENIS — Male organ used for urination and sexual intercourse.

PERFORATION — Abnormal hole or opening.

PERFORATION, INTESTINAL — Complication of conditions such as ulcers, cancers, or injury to the digestive system. When this occurs, intestinal contents enter the abdominal cavity, causing severe inflammation.

PERFUSIONIST — Medical technician who controls the heart-lung machine to sustain a patient’s life during open-heart and lung-transplant surgery.

PERINEUM — Area between the vulva and anus in females, and between the scrotum and anus in males.

PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY (ALSO CALLED PERIPHERAL NEURITIS) — A group of symptoms caused by abnormalities in motor or sensory nerves. Characteristics include: tingling, numbness, pain, usually beginning in the feet and spreading to hands and other parts of the body.

PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM — Nerves that connect to all parts of the body and carry information via electrical impulses to and from the brain and spinal cord.

PERIPHERAL VASCULAR SYSTEM — Network of arteries, veins, and lymphatic channels supplying the head, arms, and legs.

PERIRECTAL — Skin and underlying tissue around the rectum.

PERISTALSIS — Rhythmic movements of hollow muscular organs (such as the intestines) that move contents (such as digestive material) in one direction.

PERITONEAL CAVITY — Space enclosed by the peritoneum.

PERITONEUM — Very thin, two-layered tissue. One layer lines the outer surface of all the abdominal organs. The other layer lines the abdominal wall.

PERITONSILLAR ABSCESS — Abscess forming in the back of the throat near the tonsils.

PESSARY — Small ring-shaped device that is inserted into the vagina to help maintain the uterus in a normal position.

PH BALANCE — Measure of blood’s acidity or alkalinity. The pH is controlled by body fluids and electrolytes. Body tissues cannot function normally if the pH varies from a limited range.

PHENOTHIAZINE DRUGS — Medications used to slow and regulate mental-system activity. Usually used to treat anxiety and other mental conditions; also useful in producing sleep.

PHLEBOTOMY — Removing blood from the blood vessels. This was once believed to cure many diseases; today, it is done to remove blood for diagnostic testing.

PHOBIA — A powerful, unfounded, irrational fear. Young children, especially fragile ones, are especially likely to develop them. Common examples: fear of dogs, monsters, dreams, darkness, robbers, fear of school, fear of separation. Causes: The mingling of the real and the imaginary in a toddler’s or child’s mind usually triggered by anxiety due to illness, an accident, an unpleasant incident, quarreling within the family, and others. Treatment: Reassurance by parents, insistance on returning to school. Seek professional help when simpler measures fail.

PHYSICAL THERAPY — Treatment of diseases of the bone, muscular and nervous systems to help restore normal function after disease or injury.

PHYSICIAN’S ASSISTANT (PA) — Someone trained to do some of the simpler tasks ordinarily performed by a doctor. The PA works under the direction of the doctor.

PIGEON TOES (TOEING-IN) — Description: Turning in of part or all of the foot. Occurs in all age groups. Usually disappears when a child grows and begins to walk. Causes: Normal part of a child’s development. Sometimes a part of cerebral palsy. Treatment: For cases that do not disappear at the expected time, surgery may done at about age 6 or 7.

PILOCARPINE — Medication used principally in eye drops to treat glaucoma.

PITUITARY GLAND — Small endocrine gland at the base of the brain that controls growth and regulates other endocrine glands.

PLACENTA — Disk-shaped organ that attaches and grows inside the uterus during pregnancy. It enables the fetus to receive nutrients from and transfer natural wastes to the mother’s bloodstream. The umbilical cord connects the placenta to the fetus.

PLAQUE — 1) Small raised area of abnormal material on a surface such as the skin or lining of a blood vessel. 2) Mixtures of bacteria and calcium deposited on the teeth that can cause cavities and gum diseases.

PLASMA — Liquid part of blood that remains when blood cells are removed.

PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGEON (PLASTIC SURGEON) — Doctor specially trained to perform plastic and reconstructive surgery.

PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY — Special surgery to repair and change body parts to improve function or appearance. The face, hands, breasts, and skin are areas most frequently treated.

PLATELET COUNT — Platelets are blood cells (much smaller than red or white blood cells) that assist in the blood-clotting process. A drop of blood contains about 12.5 million platelets. A platelet count determines if the number of platelets is normal.

PLEURA — Thin tissue lining the lungs and chest cavity. Inflammation of the pleura (pleurisy) is a painful condition caused by lung diseases.

PLEURAL EFFUSION (PLEURAL FLUID EFFUSION) — Fluid that collects around the lungs, usually caused by inflammation of the lungs and pleura or congestive heart failure.

PODIATRIST — Health-care professional trained in the medical and surgical treatment of foot diseases.

POLYP — A growth, often on a stalk arising from dry mucous membranes, such as in the nose, cervix, or colon.

PORTAL-VEIN SYSTEM — Veins that drain blood from the gastrointestinal system. The smaller veins empty into the portal vein, which transports blood into the liver.

POSTMATURE INFANT — Infant that spends 3 weeks or more beyond the normal 39 weeks of pregnancy in the womb.

POSTOPERATIVE — Period of recuperation and return to normal health after surgery.

POSTURAL DRAINAGE — Exercises and body positions that promote drainage of fluid and secretions that collect in the lungs and airways.

POTASSIUM — Electrolyte present in all body cells, blood, and body fluids. Potassium is important in maintaining normal heart contractions and the strength and contractions of all muscles. Foods high in potassium include dried apricots and peaches, whole-grain cereals, plain cocoa, dried lentils and peas, bananas, and molasses.

PRECANCEROUS — Characteristic of a growth that has the potential to become cancerous.

PREDISPOSITION — Tendency. For example, a person who gets many infections has a predisposition to infection.

PREMATURE LABOR — Labor beginning before the usual 39 weeks of pregnancy.

PREMATURITY — Premature babies are those born too soon — earlier than 37 weeks of gestation. Premature infants born after less than 25 weeks gestation usually don’t survive. Most premature babies weigh less than 5-1/2 pounds at birth. Causes: Unknown, but socioecomonic and biological factors play a part. 7(enb) of white newborns are premature; 18(enb) of non-white newborns are premature. Medical factors that may play a part include maternal alcoholism, drug addiction, cigarette smoking, exposure to synthetic estrogen hormones (DES), stress, long-term illness, endocrine problems, toxemia, high blood pressure, infection, problems with the maternal uterus, or fetal malformations. Treatment: Incubators in neonatal intensive care units for medical and nursing special care. Before discharge home the baby should be able to eat by mouth, keep a normal temperature, and have steady heart and breathing rates.

PRESBYOPIA — Form of nearsightedness that normally accompanies aging.

PRIMARY DISORDER — Basic disease that may result in complications. Diabetes mellitus, for example, is a primary disorder that often causes secondary complications involving the kidneys, blood vessels, and eyes.

PROCTOSCOPE, PROCTOSCOPY — Method of examining the rectum and lower part of the colon with a proctoscope, an optical instrument with a lighted tip.

PROLAPSE — Pushing or falling out of a part or an organ from its normal position.

PROLAPSED (DROPPED) UTERUS — Uterus that has moved from its normal position because of loose pelvic muscles and ligaments. In severe cases, it can protrude completely outside the vagina.

PROPHYLAXIS — Measures taken to prevent an illness.

PROPHYLAXIS, DENTAL — Regular care (including cleaning) of the teeth and gums that helps prevent tooth decay and gum inflammation.

PROSTAGLANDINS — Natural substances found in semen, menstrual fluid, and many body tissues. They are involved in basic body functions such as inflammation, immune response, and activities of the lungs, heart, kidneys, uterus, and digestive system.

PROSTATE (PROSTATE GLAND) — Male sex gland located at the base of the urinary bladder. It produces a fluid that is added to sperm to produce semen.

PROSTHESIS — Artificial device used as a substitute for a missing or badly functioning part of the body.

PROTHROMBIN TIME — Test to measure one of the components of the body’s blood-clotting mechanism. It is used to diagnose clotting diseases and to control blood-thinning (anticoagulation) in treatment of some diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

PSYCHIATRIST — Doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness.

PSYCHOANALYSIS — Treatment of some mental illness that involves a detailed understanding of how past events in a person’s life may have resulted in mental disturbances.

PSYCHOLOGIST — Health-care professional specially trained to diagnose and treat some kinds of mental illness.

PSYCHOPATHY — Psychological or mental illness.

PSYCHOSIS — Mental illness characterized by deranged personality, loss of contact with reality, and possible delusions, hallucinations, or illusions.

PSYCHOSOCIAL — Influences of society on growth and development.

PSYCHOSOMATIC DISORDERS — Diseases and symptoms not caused by physical factors. “Psycho”–the mind. “Somatic” — the relationship to the body. These disorders are not faked or imaginary, but are usually caused by family disharmony, poor parent-child relationships, and inability to express feelings. Almost any illness can be affected by situational and psychological factors. Examples: Recurrent abdominal pain and headaches; diarrhea. Treatment: Seek out and confront areas of stress; deal with it effectively within the family or seek outside support. Create an atmosphere of trust so the child can speak freely about concerns and fears.

PSYCHOSOMATIC ILLNESS — Illness in which thoughts and emotions play an important role.

PSYCHOTHERAPIST — Professional specially trained to diagnose and treat some mental illnesses.

PUBERTY — Period in early adolescence when hormonal changes bring about full sexual maturity and capacity to reproduce.

PUBIC BONE — One of the bones of the pelvis located above the genitals in both sexes.

PULMONARY — Relating to the lungs and breathing.

PULMONARY EMBOLISM — Blood clots that form elsewhere in the body and travel through the veins into the right heart and thence through the pulmonary artery into a vessel so small that it no longer can pass. Lung tissue beyond the embolus will not receive adequate blood supply to survive.

PULMONARY HYPERTENSION — Increased pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs.

PULSE — Heartbeat (contraction of the heart) as felt in an artery. Heart rate is often measured by counting the pulse felt in the artery in the wrist.

PUS — Thick fluid, usually green or yellow, that forms to fight local infection. Pus often collects in an enclosed sac, an abscess, at the site of an infection.

PYELOGRAM, INTRAVENOUS — Method of studying the kidneys and urinary tract by injecting into the bloodstream a medication that X-rays can detect.

PYELOGRAM, RETROGRADE — Method of studying the kidneys, similar to an intravenous pyelogram, but in which the medication detected by X-rays is placed in the urinary system by a catheter inserted through the bladder into the ureters.


RADIATION THERAPY OR TREATMENT — Use of high-energy waves (generated by special X-rays machines, cobalt machines, and other devices) to treat some forms of cancer. Radiation destroys cancerous tissue but does little harm to healthy tissue.

RADIOACTIVE CHROMIUM STUDIES — Diagnostic method used to measure total blood in the body.

RADIOACTIVE FIBRINOGEN — Fibrinogen treated with a radioactive substance for laboratory analysis.


RADIOACTIVE STUDIES — Same as Radioisotope Studies.

RADIOACTIVE TECHNETIUM 99 SCAN — Radioisotope scan method used to diagnose some disorders of the heart, liver, spleen, and other organs.

RADIOISOTOPE — Radioactive form of chemicals normally present in the body.

RADIOISOTOPE SCAN — Scan of radioisotopes given orally or intravenously to a patient that become concentrated in organs such as the heart, lungs, or brain. Instruments measure the radiation given off by the radioisotopes and create a photographic image of the organ being studied.

RADIOISOTOPE STUDIES — Radioisotopes are chemical elements that give off radiation. A radioisotope of a chemical element normally present in the body (such as carbon), if injected into the body, will mix with the non-isotopes. The body doesn’t know the difference, but radiation from the isotopes can be detected with special instruments. Determining where radioisotopes go in the body allows diagnosis of diseases that cannot be detected otherwise.

RADIOISOTOPE THERAPY — Treatment of some cancers with radioisotopes.

RADIOLOGIST — Doctor specially trained to use X-rays and other kinds of radiation in diagnosis and treatment.

RADIONUCLIDE SCANS (A NUCLEAR MEDICINE PROCEDURE) — These tests use selected radioactive isotopes injected into patients. The isotope is selected to be picked up in increased amounts by the target organ, such as brain, lung, bone, thyroid glands, kidney, etc. The absorbed radioisotope produces a localized increase in concentration of the radioisotope tracer. Images are recorded on a scintillating camera.

RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON — A circulatory system disorder affecting fingers and toes that is a complication of an underlying disease or emotional disturbance. Characteristics include fingers that turn pale when exposed to cold or stress. Paleness is followed by a bluish tinge and then redness.

REBOUND PHENOMENON — A reversed response on withdrawal of a stimulus. For example: Many times when using a nasal spray or nose drops to shrink the nasal tissues in order to facilitate breathing through the nose, a rebound phenomenon will occur. Upon withdrawal of the spray or drops, the congestion is worse than it was before using the drops or spray.

RECOVERY ROOM — Specially equipped and staffed area of a hospital for observing and caring for patients who have just undergone surgery. Postoperative patients usually remain in the recovery room until they are awake and their vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, and respiration) are satisfactory.

RECTUM — End of the large intestine, located in the pelvis below the sigmoid colon and above the anus.

REGENERATE — Ability of some parts of the body to grow back to normal after being damaged.

REGIONAL ENTERITIS — Inflammation of a region of the small intestine, usually the last part of the small intestine where it empties into the large intestine.


RELAPSE — Stage of illness in which the patient gets worse after having improved.

REMISSION — Stage of a chronic illness when the patient’s condition improves.

RENAL DIALYSIS — Mechanical and chemical method of removing normal wastes from the body of a patient whose kidneys cannot function adequately. It is also used to remove harmful poison or a drug overdose from the bloodstream.

REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS, FEMALE — Organs of a woman’s body that enable her to become pregnant and deliver a baby. The major tubes, and ovaries.

REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS, MALE — Organs of a man’s body that enables him to produce sperm and impregnate a woman. The major organs are the penis, testicles, seminal vesicles, and prostate gland.

REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM — Body system enabling impregnation and delivery of a baby. It also provides characteristic male or female appearance.

RESECT — Surgical removal of a part of the body.

RESPIRATORY-DISTRESS SYNDROME (RDS, HYALINE MEMBRANE DISEASE) — Breathing difficulty in a newborn infant. Causes: Prematurity, underdeveloped lungs, deficiency of moistening and lubricating fluid in lungs and bronchial tubes. Symptoms: Trouble with breathing (rapid, shallow breathing, chest retractions, grunting, flared nostrils, bluish tint to skin). Low blood pressure. Low body temperature. Increasing fatigue. RDS can lead to pneumonia, heartbeat irregularities, and apnea. Treatment: Treatment of the mother in premature labor to slow or halt labor or treatment of the mother with medication that stimulates the production of surfactant in the fetus. After birth treatment requires intensive care, an incubator, oxygen, intravenous fluids. Professional workers take care not to give an excess of oxygen to prevent problems of the eyes called retrolental fibroplasia.

RETAINED PLACENTA — Condition occurring immediately after childbirth in which part of the placenta remains attached to the uterus, creating a risk of serious bleeding or infection.

RETINA — Light-senstitive part of the eye at the back of the eyeball on which the lens focuses images. The retina converts the image to impulses that go to the brain.

RETINA-VEIN OCCLUSION — Condition in which a clot forms in the vein supplying the retina with blood.

RETINOBLASTOMA — Cancerous tumor that forms in the eye of an infant.

RETROLENTAL FIBROPLASIA — A problem of the retina of the eyes of premature infants who required excessive amounts of oxygen to sustain life during intensive care following premature birth. If severe, retrolental fibroplasia can lead to severe visual problems or blindness.

RETROVIRUS — Group of viruses that cause AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and some types of lymphoma and leukemia.

RH AND ABO INCOMPATIBILITY — When a pregnant woman during her second pregnancy has Rh negative blood and her unborn infant has Rh positive blood, incompatibility can result, causing erythroblastosis in the child at birth. Since the 1960s, preventive treatment has existed, early detection is possible, and severe erythroblastosis can be prevented. A related but much less common problem exists when a mother has type O blood and the fetus has type A or B blood. When this problem occurs, treatment requires exchange transfusion of the newborn. Rh incompatibility can be prevented by giving RhoGAM to an Rh negative mother within 72 hours of delivery of her first Rh positive baby.

RH NEGATIVE BLOOD — A subtype of red blood cells. Blood subtypes are inherited. The major subtypes are types A, B, O and Rh negative.

RHEUMATOLOGIST — A specialist in internal medicine who subspecializes in medical diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic and arthritis disorders.

RICKETS — A childhood disease characterized by soft, deformed bones due to a vitamin D deficiency. There is also a similar disorder caused by genetic factors called vitamin D-resistant rickets. Causes of the deficiency: Malabsorption, inadequate diet, absence of exposure to enough ultraviolet light from the sun, gastrointestinal infections, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis of the pancreas, liver diseases, or hypophosphatemia. Treatment: Large daily doses of vitamin D, monitored by your physician. Treatment for vitamin D-resistant rickets requires combined treatment with phosphates and vitamin D.

RINNE TEST — Test using a tuning fork to diagnose hearing disorders.

ROTATOR CUFF — The structure around the shoulder joint capsule composed of intermingled muscle and tendon fibers. The rotator cuff provides stability and strength to the shoulder joint.

RUBIN’S INSUFFLATION TEST — Test used in diagnosing fertility problems in women. A harmless gas is introduced into the uterus to determine if there is a blockage in the Fallopian tubes.

RUMINATION — A rare disorder among infants aged 3 to 12 months characterized by self-induced regurgitation of partially digested food. The infant makes sucking or chewing movements before or during regurgitation. After regurgitation, some food is dribbled or spit out and some is chewed and swallowed again. These children do not retch and are not nauseated or physically ill. Most children resolve these problems spontaneously; some require treatment. Treatment may require hospitalization to correct malnutrition and/or dehydration. Other treatment methods include physical and occupational therapy, holding an infant after eating, stimulation with parent-child eye contact and verbal communication, child care, family counseling, and other social service support services.


SACROILIAC REGION — Area of the lower back where the spine meets the pelvic bone.

SALINE — Salt-containing solution similar to normal body fluid that is given intravenously to help correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances.

SALIVARY GLANDS — Glands located inside the mouth around the jaw that secrete saliva into the mouth.

SAPHENOUS-FEMORAL VEIN SYSTEM — Network of large veins in the legs that helps return blood from the leg to the inferior vena cava, then to the heart.

SARCOIDOSIS — A chronic, progressive disease involving the lungs, lymph nodes, and other tissues. There is no known treatment.

SCALE, SCALING — Flakes of dried skin which form as whitish skin lesions.

SCHIZOPHRENIA — Mental illness characterized by a distorted sense of reality, bizarre behavior, and fragmentation of the personality.

SCIATIC NERVE — Large nerve that begins at the base of the spine and passes through the buttocks down the back side of the thigh and down the leg.

SCIATICA — Painful condition resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve.

SCLERITIS — Inflammation of the sclera (the white of the eye).

SCOLIOSIS — Curvature of the spine.

SCOPOLAMINE — Medication used to treat hyperactive or spastic conditions of the digestive system and to prevent motion sickness.

SCROTUM — Organ of the male reproductive system that contains the testicles, blood vessels, and the vas deferens.

SCURVY — Disease of bones, gums, and blood vessels caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.

SECOND MOLARS — Permanent grinding teeth that appear at about age 11 to 13.

SECONDARY INFECTION — Infection that results from some other problem. It may occur after surgery or develop during antibiotic treatment of another infection.

SEDATIVE — Medication used to produce relaxation or sleep.

SEDATIVE-HYPNOTICS — Class of medications that help relieve anxiety and promote sleep.

SEDIMENTATION RATE — Blood test measuring the rate that blood settles in a test tube. It identifies infection, inflammation or tissue damage.

SELF-CARE — Treatment that patients can administer for themselves.

SEMINAL VESICLES — Small sacs next to the prostate that help make and store seminal fluid, and contract to eject semen.

SENILE DEMENTIA — Permanent loss of mental functions of older persons, resulting from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

SENILE KERATOSIS — Same as Seborrheic Keratoses. (See Illnesses section.)

SENSITIVITY STUDIES (ANTIBIOTICS) — Laboratory method of determining which antibiotic will most likely be successful in treating infections caused by bacteria.

SENSORY — Ability to feel or experience sensations such as sound, light, or pain.

SEPTIC — Infected.

SEROLOGICAL TESTS — Tests of serum (blood without cells) used to diagnose a variety of diseases, especially infections and autoimmune conditions.

SERUM — Liquid portion of blood that remains after blood cells and blood clots have been removed.

SERUM ALKALINE PHOSPHATASE — Material present in excessive amounts in the blood of patients with some bone and liver diseases.

SERUM ELECTROLYTES — Same as Electrolytes.

SESAMOID BONES — Small oval-shaped bones in the tendons of the hands and feet.

SEVER’S DISEASE — Painful condition of the heel bone of growing children.

SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION — Inability to participate in sexual relations that are satisfactory for both partners.

SHAVE BIOPSY — Procedure to diagnose skin disorders in which a thin layer of tissue from under a skin lesion is shaved away for laboratory examination.

SHOCK — Condition in which the blood pressure falls below the level needed to supply blood to the body. Signs and symptoms include weakness, paleness, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, cold sweat, and feelings of doom.

SICK-SINUS SYNDROME — Form of heart-rhythm disorder (arrhythmia).

SIGMOID COLON — Lower part of the large colon (intestine) located in the pelvis just above the rectum.

SIGMOIDOSCOPE, SIGMOIDOSCOPY — Same as Proctoscope, Proctoscopy.

SIGNS — Evidence of disease that can be observed and measured, in contrast to symptoms, which only patients can experience. For example, blood-pressure measurement or red tonsils are signs; headache or nausea are symptoms.

SILICONE — Artificial compound used by plastic and reconstructive surgeons to reshape parts of the body, such as the breast.

SILVER NITRATE — Chemical used for cautery.

SIMS-HUHNER TEST — Test used in diagnosis of reasons for infertility in women in which the mucus from the cervix is examined, especially for the presence of sperm after sexual intercourse.

SKIN CLIPS — Small U-shaped metal strips used instead of stitches to close skin that has been incised during surgery.

SKIN TESTS FOR ALLERGY — Diagnostic method used to determine whether a particular substance is causing allergic reactions. The test is carried out by introducing a small amount of the suspected material, such as pollen or dust, under the skin or on the skin. If inflammation results, the patient is allergic to the material.

SLEEP INDUCERS — Medications used to produce sleep.

SLEEP-STUDY LABORATORY — Laboratory where persons are studied with sensitive instruments while asleep. Information from sleep study aids in diagnosis of sleep disorders.

SLOW VIRUSES — Group of viruses that infect the brain but do not cause disease until many years afterward.

SOAKS — Applying moisture–either plain water or water with dissolved medicines — to an inflamed area of the skin.

SOFT PALATE — Fleshy part of the roof of the mouth close to the throat.

SONOGRAM, SONOGRAPHY — Diagnostic method in which high-frequency (ultrasound) sound waves are transmitted into the body. Their reflections create images of body organs. This non-invasive test requires a technician to guide a transducer over the area of the body being studied. The transducer sends sound waves at frequencies the ear does not hear. These waves reflect back, convert into images, and allow the images to be amplified, displayed on a screen, and photographed.

SPASMODIC — Sudden intermittent symptom, or intermittent muscle spasm.

SPASTIC, SPASTICITY — A description of muscles that are continuously contracting and in a state of excessive tension.

SPECULUM — Instrument used to examine the interior of openings such as the vagina, nose, ear, or rectum.

SPERM — Male reproductive cells manu_factured in testicles and ejaculated in semen.

SPHEROCYTOSIS — Abnormally shaped red blood cells caused by some anemias. These cells are sphere-shaped, in contrast to the doughnut shape of normal red blood cells.

SPIKES, TEMPERATURE — High but brief episodes of fever.

SPINA BIFIDA — Congenital (inherited) disorder in which the base of the spine remains open, sometimes exposing the spinal cord and nerves.

SPINAL ANESTHESIA — Method to provide anesthesia to the lower body by injecting an anesthetic into the fluid in the space that surrounds the lower spinal cord.

SPIROMETRY — Test of lung (pulmonary) function.

SPLEEN — A large organ in the upper abdomen on the left side, located close to the left side of the stomach. It is the largest structure of the lymph system. The spleen causes disintegration of old red blood cells in adults, manufactures red blood cells in the fetus and newborn, and serves as an important reservoir of blood.

SPLENIC-VEIN THROMBOSIS — Clot in the major vein that carries blood away from the spleen.

SPLINTS — Rigid supports, made of metal, plastic or plaster, used to immobilize an injured or inflamed part of the body. Splints are used temporarily in the case of injury, following some surgical procedures on joints or ligaments, or occasionally in the case of arthritis.

SPORE — Microscopic seed form of fungi. Spores are extremely hardy, and survive extremes of temperature. If they enter the body of a susceptible person, they can cause fungal disease.

SPUTUM — Secretion of the lungs, coughed up in large amounts in some lung diseases.

STAPHYLOCOCCUS — Bacteria that frequently cause boils, abscesses, pneumonias, bone infections, and infections in other tissues or organs.

STAPLES — Small U-shaped metal wires used in place of stitches to close incised skin after some surgeries, especially in the digestive system. Also used to close off some portions of the stomach during operations for extreme obesity.

STERILIZED — 1) Made completely free of all germs, usually by steam heat, toxic gas, or chemicals. All instruments used in surgeries are sterilized, as is most other medical equipment. 2) Made unable to conceive children.

STEROIDS — Medications that resemble hormones produced by the cortex of the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testicles.

STETHOSCOPE — Instrument used to listen to the sounds produced by the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and pregnant uterus.

STILL’S DISEASE — Form of arthritis in children

similar to rheumatoid arthritis in adults.

STIMULANT DRUGS — Medications that increase the activity of the brain and nervous system.

STOMATITIS — Inflammation of the mouth.

STOOL — Feces.

STREPTOCOCCUS — Bacteria that cause illnesses such as laryngitis, cellulitis of the skin, pneumonia, meningitis, and others. If not treated, streptococcal infections may also cause serious heart and kidney diseases as complications that appear after the original infection has cleared.

STRESS — A disruption of a person’s physical or mental well-being or balance. Stress occurs in every life, but people respond in different ways.

STUTTERING — A disruption in the natural rhythm and flow of speech with repeated sounds or syllables, prolongation of sounds, or blocked speech. Treatment includes parents controlling their own reaction to the child’s stuttering. With severe problems a speech therapist may, with great patience, help a child over this language barrier.

SUBLINGUAL SALIVARY GLANDS — Small glands near the base of the tongue that secrete saliva into the mouth.

SUBMAXILLARY SALIVARY GLANDS — Small glands near the jaw that secrete saliva into the mouth.

SUICIDE — The third leading cause of death among adolescents, following accidents and homicides. Suicide occurs in all socioeconomic groups. All suicide threats or attempts must be taken seriously and dealt with immediately.

Suicidal threats should be first addressed by the family with patient listening. As soon as a child feels that help is available, things get better with practical advice, emotional support, or professional help.

SULFONAMIDES (SULFA DRUGS) — Class of drugs used to fight infections.

SULFONUREA DRUGS — Medications taken orally to treat some forms of diabetes mellitus.

SURGERY — Treatment in which the body is restored to a healthy condition by physical methods (or operations) such as cutting, removing, replacing, straightening, repairing, or joining.

SURGICAL SUITE — Group of rooms used to perform surgery. In addition to operating rooms, where surgery takes place, there are supply areas, a recovery room, administrative rooms, and a lounge for the staff to rest between surgeries.

SUTURE — Thread-like material used to hold tissues or skin edges together.

SYMMETRY, SYMMETRICAL — Refers to the arrangement of the body in pairs, such as two arms, legs, kidneys, lungs, etc.

SYMPATHOMIMETICS — Medications similar to adrenalin in their actions.

SYMPTOMS — Effects of disease that only the patient can experience, such as pain, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, depression and others.

SYNOVIAL MEMBRANES — Delicate tissue that lines the inside of joints.

SYSTEMIC — Conditions that affect most or all of the body, in contrast to conditions that affect only a limited area. For example, diabetes mellitus is a systemic condition; an abscess is a local condition.


TAMPONS — Absorbent material to insert into the vagina during menstruation. They may be used alone, or with pads. They are safe to use as soon as menstruation begins. They should be changed about every 4 hours or more frequently. Use the smallest size possible and wear pads instead at night. Continue to take daily baths and showers. Don’t use feminine sprays or douches. If the odor is really bad or a heavy discharge develops, consult your physician.

TARTAR — Hard deposit that forms on the teeth and causes inflammation of the gums.

TEMPERATURE SPIKE — See Spikes, Temperature.

TEMPORO-MANDIBULAR JOINT — Joint that joins the jaw to the other head bones.

TENDERNESS — Condition that causes pain when pressure is applied.

TENDON — Tough cord of tissue at the end of muscles that attach to bone. Tendons transmit the force of muscle contraction to cause movement.

TESTES OR TESTICLES — Male sex glands that produce sex hormones and sperm.

THERAPEUTIC TRIAL — Form of diagnosis and treatment where medication is used even though the diagnosis is not firmly established. If the patient improves after treatment with a medication known to be useful in treating a specific condition, the improvement suggests that the specific disease was present. Therapeutic trials are somewhat risky and are used only when other forms of diagnosis and treatment have failed.

THERAPIST — Health-care professional specially trained to provide therapy.

THERMOGRAM, THERMOGRAPHY — Method of diagnosis that measures body heat. The area being studied is scanned by a heat-sensitive instrument capable of producing an image (thermogram) of areas of increased heat. They are useful in studying female breast tumors and some blood-vessel conditions.

THIAZIDE DIURETICS — Class of medications that promote excretion of excess fluids by the kidneys.

THIRD MOLARS — Permanent grinding teeth that appear at about age 17 to 25.

THORACIC DUCT — The largest channel of the lymphatic system through which lymph fluid enters the vena cava.

THORACIC SPINE — That part of the spinal column below the neck and above the back. Ribs attach to the thoracic spine.

THORACIC SURGEON — A surgeon who specializes in surgical treatment of disorders of the organs in the thorax (chest), including lungs, pericardium, heart, pleura (covering of lungs), bronchial tubes, and large blood vessels.

THYROGLOSSAL DUCT — Small passageway, normally closed, located in the upper neck. It extends from the back of the tongue to just above the larynx. If an abnormally open duct becomes filled with fluid, a thyroglossal cyst results.

THYROID CARTILAGE — Larynx (also called the voice box, or Adam’s apple), made of semihard cartilage.

THYROID GLAND — Endocrine gland located in the lower neck next to the trachea that produces hormones that regulate the rate at which all body cells function. Thyroid hormones are also essential for normal growth and development.

THYROID SCAN — Method of examination of the thyroid gland in which a small amount of radioactive iodine introduced into the body collects in the thyroid gland. An instrument passed over the thyroid produces an image of the gland based on the concentration of the radioactive iodine.

TICKS — Small biting insects that may cause inflammation of the skin or serious infections such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

TICS — Brief, uncontrollable muscle spasms.

TISSUE — Building blocks of body organs; living cells all of one type.

TITER — The quantity of a substance required to produce a reaction with a given volume of another substance.

TONSILS — Lymphatic tissues that help fight infection located at the entrance of the throat. They frequently become infected, especially in children.

TOPICAL — Medications applied to the skin, conjunctiva, or mucous membrane of the mouth, nose, vagina, or rectum.

TOURNIQUET — Cord or band wrapped around an arm or leg tightly enough to stop blood circulation temporarily.

TOXIC, TOXICITY — Harmful; capable of causing body damage.

TOXIN — Poison. Usually refers to the chemicals produced by some living organisms that harm the human body.

TRACTION — Method of treating some conditions of bones, muscles, and ligaments by exerting a steady pull on the affected parts. Some bone fractures and back pain due to a ruptured disk are treated this way.

TRANQUILIZER — Medication used to help diminish anxiety and to produce calmness.

TRANQUILIZERS, BENZODIAZEPINE — Class of tranquilizers commonly used to treat anxiety, nervousness, or tension.

TRANSFUSE — To give a patient blood, necessary in the treatment of some conditions.

TRANSFUSION — Process of introducing blood through a needle placed in the patient’s vein.

TRANSFUSION REACTION — Undesirable symptom or condition resulting from a blood transfusion.

TRANSMISSION, TRANSMIT — Passing a disease to another person.

TRANSPLANT — Living organ (such as kidney, cornea, heart, bone marrow, or skin), removed from one person (donor), and placed in the body of another (recipient).

TRANSVERSE COLON — Middle part of the colon (intestine), lying horizontally in the middle or upper abdomen.

TRAUMA — Force that injures or damages any part of the body.

TRICYCLIC ANTIDEPRESSANT DRUGS (TRICYCLICS) — Class of medications used to treat depression.

TROPHOBLASTIC TUMORS — See Hydatidiform Mole.

TUBE FEEDING — Providing nutrients through a small tube placed in the stomach of a patient who is unable to eat. The tube may pass through the nose to the stomach or be inserted through an incision in the stomach.

TUBEROUS SCLEROSIS — Rare inherited condition of the skin, nervous system, and other organs of the body.

TUMOR — Literally, a swelling; usually used to refer to a benign or cancerous growth.

TURNER’S SYNDROME — A disorder in girls characterized by an abnormal chromosome pattern — they lack one of the two sex hormones. Signs and symptoms: Low birth weight, skin and bone abnormalities, “webbed” neck, swollen hands and feet, broad chest, a low hairline at the nape of the neck, congenital heart disease (frequently), absence of breast development and menstruation, or short stature. Treatment: Female hormones beginning at age 13 to 15 years. Treatment is usually quite successful.


ULCERATION — Wearing away of the surface or lining of an organ, exposing underlying tissue. Ulceration of the lining of the stomach exposes blood vessels, which may bleed. Ulceration may erode through the wall of an organ (perforation). Ulceration frequently affects the skin, if rubbed excessively or if diseased.


ULTRASOUND TREATMENT — Method of treatment in which high-energy sound waves are focused on the affected area, producing mild heat that helps relieve inflammation. It is especially useful in treatment of muscular symptoms.

UNDERLYING — Beneath, below, or more basic. Thus, losing weight may result from an underlying condition such as diabetes mellitus or cancer.

UPPER GASTROINTESTINAL SERIES — X-ray examination of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum accomplished by having the patient swallow a barium solution that X-rays can detect.

UPPER RESPIRATORY SYSTEM — Upper part of the breathing system, consisting of the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, and bronchial tubes.

UREMIA — A serious condition associated with kidney failure in which body wastes build up in the blood and body tissues.

URETERS — Slender muscular tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder, where it is stored until eliminated from the body.

URETHRA — Tubular passageway extending from the urinary bladder to the outside of the body.

URIC ACID — Chemical normally produced in the body from metabolism or breakdown of protein and eliminated in the urine. If the level of uric acid rises in the body as a result of disease, gout or kidney stones may result.

URINALYSIS — Laboratory test performed on a urine sample that helps diagnose diseases of the kidney and other parts of the body.

URINARY BLADDER — Muscular sac in the lower abdomen that stores urine brought to it from the kidneys by the ureters. The bladder stores urine until it can be eliminated through the urethra by contractions of the bladder muscles.

URINARY STUDIES — Laboratory or X-ray tests of the urinary tract.

URINARY TRACT — Organs that produce, store, and eliminate urine. The organs are the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra.

UTERUS — Organ of the female reproductive system on the wall of which the fertilized egg (ovum) attaches and develops to form a fetus.

UVEITIS — Inflammation of the parts of the eyes that make up the iris (colored tissue encircling the clear center — the pupil).

UVULA — Soft tissue hanging down from the soft palate at the back of the throat.


VACCINATION — Method of providing protection against disease (immunity) by giving a patient a small amount of the disease-causing germ that is weakened, killed, or otherwise modified so that it cannot itself cause disease. Same as Immunization.

VACCINE — Medication used to provide immunity by vaccination. Vaccines are given mostly by injection or by mouth.

VAGUS NERVE — Long cranial nerve, arising in the base of the brain and passing to the chest and abdomen. It helps regulate heart rate, breathing, swallowing, digestion, and many other body functions.

VARICOSE — Swollen and twisting, usually used to describe varicose veins.

VAS DEFERENS — Tube that carries sperm manufactured by the testicles toward the prostate gland and seminal vesicles.

VASCULITIS — Inflammation of blood vessels, the basis of any illnesses.

VASOCONSTRICTOR DRUGS — Medications that cause blood vessels to contract, tighten, or become smaller.

VASODILATOR DRUGS — Medications that cause small arteries to widen, providing more blood to an area of the body where the blood vessels are constricted by spasm, narrowed or obstructed.

VECTOR — 1) An imaginary line that represents both direction and quantity used to study electrocardiograms (EKGs). 2) An agent that transmits infectious germs from one organism to another.

VEINS — Blood vessels that return blood from body organs to the heart and lungs. Veins are much thinner than arteries. Veins carry blood at a much lower pressure than do arteries.

VENA CAVA — Largest vein in the body. It collects blood from the venous system and carries it to the heart.

VENEREAL — Related to sexual intercourse or sexual contact. Veneral diseases such as genital herpes, gonorrhea, or syphilis are now usually referred to as “sexually transmitted diseases.”

VENOUS SYSTEM — Network of veins that extend from all body organs and transport blood back to the heart.

VENTRICLES — Chambers containing fluid. The ventricles of the heart pump blood; ventricles of the brain contain cerebrospinal fluid.

VENTRICULAR ANEURYSM — Ballooning of the wall of the heart resulting from a weakening of the heart muscle, a complication of scarring from a previous heart attack.

VERTEBRAE — Bones of the spine that form the vertebral column (backbone).

VERTEBRAL COLUMN — The spine; the bones of the back.

VIRULENT — Extremely dangerous or harmful. Virulent bacteria are ones capable of causing diseases.

VIRUSES — Small germs responsible for a variety of infectious illnesses. Viruses are not alive until they enter cells of the body, where they grow and reproduce, causing viral illnesses.

VISUAL ACUITY — Clarity with which objects are seen.

VITAMINS — Chemical substances found in food that are necessary for healthy body growth, function, and tissue repair.

VITREOUS — Clear fluid that fills much of the eye.

VOCAL CORDS — Two narrow bands of fibrous and muscular tissue in the larynx that vibrate to create the sounds of the voice.

VOIDING CYSTOURETHROGRAPHY — An X-ray study made of the bladder and urethra after injection of a dye through a catheter inserted through the urethra into the bladder.

VOLVULUS — Twisting of loops of intestines, which beome closed off (obstructed) and may lose their blood supply.


WARTS — Small, often hard and rough skin growths caused by viruses that infect the skin.

WASTING OF BODY OR MUSCLES — Severe loss of body tissues (other than surplus fat), especially muscles and vital organs, resulting in weakness, susceptibility to infection, bone fractures, and sometimes death.

WEBER TEST — Hearing test performed with a tuning fork.

WHEEZES — High-pitched sounds and whistles produced in the lungs where secretions have partially blocked air passages.

WHIRLPOOL TREATMENT — Method of treating minor blood-vessel and musculo-skeletal diseases by immersion in a pool where jets of warm water enter and swirl under high pressure.

WISDOM TEETH — Same as Third Molars.

WRYNECK (TORTICOLLIS) — A painful condition that causes a child to tip or tilt to one side. It may be present at birth (perhaps caused by injury at birth), or later in life may be caused by muscle inflammation caused by an accident, tumor, or disease. Treatment: Congenital form: A series of muscle-stretching exercises. The worst cases require surgery. Other forms: Treatment of the underlying condition.


XERORADIOGRAM — Method of X-ray diagnosis, usually of the female breast, which uses a process similar to that used to produce photocopies.

X-RAYS — High energy, invisible waves capable of penetrating the body and creating shadows on photographic film. The shadows provide images of the body tissues through which the X-rays pass.


ZOSTER — “Girdle,” used to describe a form of virus infection (herpes zoster, shingles) that often produces bands of inflammation across the chest or abdomen.

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