A Glossary of Common Medical Terms

March 3, 2022

In the field of medicine, professionals use their own terminology to describe parts of the body and phenomena related to medical issues. Knowing what these terms mean is crucial to any job in a medical setting, so it’s important to study and learn common medical terms if you intend to pursue a career in medicine, health informatics, or another related field.


Abdomen: The part of the human body between the base of the rib cage and the top of the pelvis that contains vital organs such as the stomach, intestines, pancreas, kidneys, and liver

Adhesion: When two surfaces in the body stick together as a result of thin sheets or bands of scar-like tissue forming between them. This response can occur after injury or trauma that the body attempts to repair.

Allergen Multi-Box Screen: Also referred to as a multi-panel, it is a test using different allergens to determine what a patient may have an allergic response to by screening for immunoglobulin E.

Allergen-Specific Antigen: A more refined version of the multi-box screen, this test screens for immunoglobulin E in the presence of one specific allergen that is suspected to cause a reaction in a patient.

ALT: Short for alanine aminotransferase, it is an enzyme found mainly within the liver and can be measured with a blood test to determine if a patient has liver damage.

Amniotic Fluid: The fluid that encapsulates a growing fetus and suspends it within the uterus during pregnancy

Anesthesiologist: A medical professional who specializes in the administering and dosing of anesthesia before and during surgical procedures

Angiography: A type of scan used to observe blood or lymph vessels, it utilizes a contrast dye to view the flow of blood through different regions of the body.

Angioplasty: A procedure that opens a blocked coronary artery to restore blood flow to the heart without having to expose it. This surgery is used to treat coronary artery disease.

Anteroposterior: In imaging, an image that is taken from the front to the back of the body

Aortic Aneurysm: Swelling that resembles a balloon in the aorta, a large artery that allows blood to travel from the heart through the chest and abdomen

Aortic Valve: One of four valves in the heart, it separates the left ventricle and the aorta and aids in keeping the blood in the heart flowing in the correct direction.

Appendectomy: The removal of the small organ called the appendix that is attached to the cecum of the large intestine, often removed to alleviate a condition called appendicitis, which inflames the appendix and causes severe pain

Arthroscopy: A procedure used for identifying problems in the joints and treating them. A narrow tube with a video camera is inserted into a small incision made at the joint of interest, where it then transmits a video feed of the inside of the joint.

AST: Short for aspartate aminotransferase, it is an enzyme mainly found in the liver, and like ALT, it can be measured with a blood test to check for liver damage.

Average Direct Pay Price: The average of what a patient will pay to the hospital for an inpatient or outpatient procedure, either all at once or over a period of time

Average Prompt Pay Price: The average of what a patient will pay in advance in full before an inpatient or outpatient procedure

Average Total Charges: The average estimated total the patient will be responsible for paying for an inpatient or outpatient procedure


Basic Metabolic Panel: A common blood test used to measure eight different substances present in the blood. It assists in diagnosing conditions and monitoring overall health.

Bilateral: The term referring to the placement or state of organs, bones, and extremities that appear on both sides of the body in generally the same place. For example, there are two kidneys, one on each side of the body, and if both fail, it would be referred to as bilateral kidney failure.

Bilirubin: Formed in the liver, it is a yellow-orange pigment that is produced as a result of the breakdown of hemoglobin and is excreted in bile produced by the gallbladder.

Blood Type ABO: The blood groups representing the presence or absence of A and B antigens on a red blood cell’s outer membrane. Depending on which antigens, if any, are present, blood types can be noted as type A, B, AB, or O.

Blood Type Rh: The “positive” or “negative” that follows the ABO blood group, it is determined by the presence or absence of D antigen on the outer membrane of a red blood cell. Those who have the antigen are positive (+), and those that do not are negative (-).

Brain Lesion: An abnormality seen in the brain that may change in appearance or size and may be cancerous


Carotid Artery: A major artery carrying blood from the heart to the head, this is the best artery to use for checking a patient’s pulse.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A syndrome causing numbness and tingling in the hand as a result of pressure on the median nerve

Cautery: An instrument meant for cauterizing a wound using freezing, electricity, heat, or chemical action

CC: Comorbidity or complication, refering to a secondary condition occurring alongside the primary condition or a health issue that occurs because of a performed procedure. Both affect treatment and tend to prolong hospital stays.

C. Difficile: The name of a bacterium that causes infection of the large intestine with symptoms of diarrhea and inflammation of the colon

Cellulitis: A condition where subcutaneous connective tissue becomes inflamed

Cervical Spine: The upper section of the spine, including the neck and upper back, above both the thoracic and lumbar spine

Cervix: The part of the female reproductive system that connects the vagina and the uterus

Cesarean Section: The surgical procedure of removing a baby from the uterus when it is unable to be birthed through the vaginal canal

Charge Specialist: The person who is responsible for reviewing data from patients and handling billing

Chlamydia: A sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria, resulting in genital pain and discharge, though many who have it appear asymptomatic

Cholecystectomy: The removal of the gallbladder, an organ that produces bile to aid in digestion. Reasons for removal include disease and gallstones.

Colon: Another word for the large intestine

Colonoscopy: A procedure that uses a camera to observe the colon to detect health problems

Comorbidity: A medical condition that occurs at the same time as another medical condition

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel: A common blood test comprised of 14 different tests to measure substances in the blood, with which more information is gained than from a basic metabolic panel

Contrast: Used in imaging, it is a dye or substance that is injected into the bloodstream, given by enema, or taken orally that helps imaging professionals view the inside of the body when looking for abnormal areas.

Coronary: Refers to the coronary arteries, which come out of the aorta and move and supply blood to the heart

Coronary Bypass: A procedure used to treat a diseased blood vessel, it diverts blood around diseased parts of the artery to make blood flow to the heart at an adequate rate.

Coronary Catheterization: When a catheter, a thin flexible tube, is guided through a blood vessel to diagnose and treat various heart issues, such as arrhythmia, angina, or problems with heart valves

CPK: Short for creatine phosphokinase, it is an enzyme that is mainly found in the skeletal muscles, brain, and heart. In a blood test, it can be measured to identify an injury within these areas.

CPT Code: Short for Current Procedural Terminology, it is used universally to identify specific procedures and services provided by hospitals and physicians. It is mainly used in insurance billing.

Creatinine: Produced from the breakdown of creatine, it is a waste product important in metabolic processes.

CT Scan: A computed tomography scan can be used with or without contrast to take a series of X-rays of regions inside the body.

Cystocele: A medical condition where the base of the bladder prolapses into the vagina as a result of the weakening of the pelvic muscles


Debride: To remove extraneous or dead tissue

Diagnostic X-Ray: Also known as radiography, it is a method of imaging that takes pictures of areas inside the body to diagnose and treat certain ailments.

DRG Code: A diagnosis-related group code is a form of classification that distinguishes patients into groups by their expected use of resources and cost to the hospital.

Drug-Eluting Stent: A drug-eluting stent is a stent that contains slow-releasing medication to prevent blood clots from forming and causing a blockage.

Duodenum: The part of the small intestine that is directly after the stomach and before the jejunum


Edema: Swelling in bodily tissues caused by an excess of fluid that cannot remove itself

Embolism: An obstruction caused by a blood clot or trapped air in an artery that disrupts blood flowing normally.

Endarterectomy: A procedure that removes the inner lining of an artery to treat plaque buildup or blood clots

Endometrium: The mucosal lining of the uterus that sheds in menstrual blood and grows back during each menstrual cycle

Endoscopic: Refers to procedures that use a flexible tube with a light on the end called an endoscope, which is used to treat and diagnose health conditions

Enterocele: When the small intestine prolapses and drops into the top of the vagina

Esophageal Sphincter: The circular band of muscle in the esophagus that opens and closes to allow for food to be swallowed and to keep stomach contents out of the throat. It connects the stomach and esophagus.

Estimated Average Charge: An estimated value the hospital expects to charge a patient for a specific procedure or service provided. It is not the final total and does not include fees from other providers.

Ethmoid Sinus: The sinus of the passageways of the nasal cavity responsible for allowing air movement through the nose

Extremity: Refers to a limb attached to the torso, such as the arms and legs


Fallopian Tubes: The passageways for eggs to travel into the uterus to either be shed or attached to the uterine wall if fertilized. They connect the ovaries to the uterus.

Femur: The strongest long bone in the body, located in the thigh, above the fibula and tibia, and attached to the pelvis by the head of the femur with a ball-and-socket joint

Ferritin: A protein in the blood containing iron. Blood tests that measure this protein can tell a provider how much iron is stored in your body and if there are any signs of anemia (iron deficiency).

Fetus: A small developing human inside the womb

Fibroids: Non-cancerous tumors comprised of muscle tissue that grow in the uterine wall. They can cause heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain.

Fibula: The supporting bone of the tibia, located in the calf below the femur and above the talus

Fluoroscopy: A type of imaging that is similar to standard X-rays, but instead of taking several still images, it shows a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, like a video

Forearm: The part of the arm between the wrist and elbow, containing the radius and ulna

Free T4: The main hormone produced by the thyroid gland that is not attached to any protein in the blood. This hormone can be measured in a blood test to check for signs of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, depending on if the value is low or high.

Fusion: Refers to spinal fusion, a procedure that connects two or more vertebrae to eliminate motion to treat unstable vertebrae in the spine


Gastroenterostomy: When the opening between the small intestine and stomach is compromised, a gastroenterostomy is performed to surgically create an opening to allow food and stomach contents to pass directly into the jejunum, bypassing the duodenum.

GC PCR: This is a type of PCR test that uses urine or a swab to detect the causative agent of gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, as well as Chlamydia trachomatis. “GC” stands for gonorrhea and chlamydia, and “PCR” stands for a polymerase chain reaction. This test uses DNA to carry out a standard PCR test that identifies sequences in the sample that match the known sequences of the bacterium.

GI: Short for gastrointestinal, referring to the gastric and intestinal systems of the body

Glucose Test: A blood test that measures the level of glucose, a type of sugar, present in the blood

Glycated Hemoglobin Test (HbA1C): A type of glucose test that measures sugar levels, often used in diagnosing and managing diabetes. Other names for it are A1C or HbA1c, but they are all the same test.


Hemoglobin: The protein that carries oxygen through the body and is attached to red blood cells. It also brings carbon dioxide back to the lungs.

Hematocrit: The percent volume of how many red blood cells are present in the blood

Hernia: When part of an organ protrudes through a weak point in the cavity wall it is contained in

HIV: Known as the human immunodeficiency virus, it is a virus that targets the immune system and is a precursor to AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. There is currently no cure, but there are ways to control and treat it to prevent the progression and spread of the disease.

Hysterectomy: A procedure that removes the uterus, either completely or partially

Pursue a Career in Health Informatics

Shape the Future of Patient Care
Learn More


Incarcerated: Cut off from blood flow

Incisional: Refers to a cut in tissue made during a surgical procedure. For example, incisional pain means pain where the cut was made.

Infusion: When a provider administers a dose of medication or fluids intravenously

Inguinal: Refers to the groin, more specifically the sides of the groin toward where it meets the inner thigh

Inpatient Procedure: A procedure that requires admittance to the hospital it is taking place in.

Insurance: An entity that covers part or all of the cost of certain procedures

Internal Fixation: The invasive fixing of broken bones through the use of wires, pins, plates, and screws, performed when bones are shattered or otherwise not fixable through external means

Ionized Calcium Test: A test that measures free calcium, or calcium that isn’t attached to proteins in the blood, often performed when a total calcium level test is not sufficient enough for evaluation

Ischemia: The lack of blood supply that causes tissue damage when a part of the body does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients


Laparoscopic: Refers to procedures that use a laparoscope, a tube-like instrument with a camera lens and a light used for viewing the inside of the abdomen

Lead Test: A blood test that measures the level of lead in your blood. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that should be checked for in patients at risk of lead toxicity.

Ligation: A procedure that closes off a duct, tube, or vessel in the body by tying (ligature), cutting, or otherwise blocking the passageway

Lipase: A digestive enzyme in the stomach, pancreas, and salivary glands that helps to break down fats

Lipid Panel: A blood test that measures the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, types of fats, in the blood

Liver/Hep Function Panel: A comprehensive blood test to check how efficiently a liver is working. It measures total protein, bilirubin, albumin, and liver enzymes. Liver disease and damage can be diagnosed depending on how high or low these levels are.

Lumbar: Refers to the area where the lumbar spine is located, the lower back region under the ribs and above the hip bones

Lumbosacral: Refers to the area where the sacrum and lumbar spine are located, behind the pelvis in the middle of the hips on the back

Lymph Node(s): The major organs in the lymphatic system that use lymph fluid to filter, carry, and remove cancer cells and infection-causing bacteria with the use of immune cells


Magnesium Level: The amount of magnesium present in the body, determined by a blood or urine test. This test can be performed to check for potential problems in the kidneys or intestines.

Mammography/Mammogram: An X-ray of the breast tissue used to screen for cancers, tumors, and other abnormalities

Mastectomy: The surgical removal of either one or both breasts, either completely or partially

MCC: Major complication or comorbidity (MCC), like complication or comorbidity (CC), is a condition that is acquired in the hospital or a pre-existing condition that affects treatment and length of stay, except an MCC is more serious and always requires additional care and intervention

Meniscus: The C-shaped cartilage that sits between the tibia and femur and acts as a shock absorber. There are two in each knee, and they act as cushioning to keep the joint stable.

Microalbumin Test: A test that uses urine to check for minuscule amounts of albumin, the protein present in the blood

Mono Test: A blood test that checks a patient for mononucleosis, a viral infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus

MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiogram): A diagnostic scan that uses radio waves and a strong magnet to produce an image of blood flowing through blood vessels in the body. This test is similar to an MRI, but it focuses on the blood vessels.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): A diagnostic scan that uses radio waves and a strong magnet to produce an image of the inside of the body in great detail. The image can then be analyzed for any abnormalities or lesions.


Nasal Septum: A bony cartilage structure in the midline of the nose that separates the nostrils

Natriuretic Peptide/Brain Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) Test: A blood test that measures BNP, a protein produced by blood vessels and the heart. This is used to check for signs of cardiac problems, as this level is higher when a patient experiences congestive heart failure.

Neonate: Another term for a newborn or infant less than one month old


Obstetric Panel: Used in obstetrics, this is a blood test that is done to check the health of a patient before or during pregnancy to determine prenatal and postnatal care for the patient and/or newborn.

Occult Blood Screen: Also called a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), it is a test that uses a stool sample to check for blood that may not be visible to the naked eye. This test may be done to check for potential intestinal conditions like cancers or polyps.

Other Charges: Services that are billed separately from physician fees

Otitis: A general expression for inflammation or infection of the external, middle, or inner ear

Outpatient Location: A surgical center that specializes in outpatient procedures that do not require hospital admittance

Outpatient Procedure: A procedure that does not require hospital admittance, with the patient allowed to go home the same day


Pathologist: Medical professional who specializes in finding the causes and effects of diseases and in helping physicians during the diagnostic process by examining body tissues and performing lab tests

PCR: Short for polymerase chain reaction, it is a process used to test for certain viral and bacterial infections by amplifying replicated segments of DNA that can be matched to DNA or RNA sequences created by a pathogen

Pelvic Floor: The bottom of the pelvis, containing pelvic floor muscles that help to keep internal organs in place and inside the body as well as to prevent urine and feces from being excreted spontaneously

Pelvis: The bone structure that contains the reproductive organs and part of the intestines that allows humans to be stable when walking.

Peritoneal: Refers to the peritoneum, tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most abdominal organs

PET: A type of diagnostic scan, also called positron emission tomography, that measures the body’s metabolic activity

Phosphorous: A nonmetal element part of ATP, the cell’s main energy source, found in the body’s blood, bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles. It is needed to grow, repair, and maintain all cells and tissues.

Pleurisy: A word for inflammation of the serous membranes of the lungs. It causes pain when breathing, as it disrupts the lubrication process of the membrane, and it is often caused by disease.

Potassium: A metal element used in the body to regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses, digest food, and contract muscles including the heart

Procedure Code: A code that describes the details of a procedure that a patient receives

Prolapsing: When an internal organ starts to collapse or drop from its natural position, potentially bulging into other structures or even protruding outside of the body

Prosthesis: A crafted replacement for an external structure, usually a limb such as an arm or leg, designed to aid in replicating the appearance and function of the missing body part

Prothrombin Time (INR): A test that measures the rate of how long it takes for blood to clot in a sample. INR stands for international normalized ratio and is the resulting calculation from the test.

PSA: Short for prostate-specific antigen, it is a protein made by the prostate gland that appears in the blood. Higher levels of the protein may indicate cancer of the prostate or other prostate conditions.

PTT: Another clotting test for blood, like the prothrombin time (PT), with the addition of an activator that speeds up clotting. There is a narrower range of reference in the results of the test.

Pulmonary Embolism: When an artery located in the lung becomes clogged by a blood clot, air bubbles, or fat circulating in the blood. Embolisms often start as a clot that develops in the legs and travels to the artery in the lung.


Quality of Care: The degree of health care a patient or population receives that results in the desired health outcome

Quality Report Card: A report created by a third party that assesses the performance in health care given by specific medical personnel


Radiological Marker: A preoperative mark in the body placed to indicate what tissue is to be excised by a surgeon

Radiologist: Medical professional who specializes in working with X-rays, scans, and other imaging technology to produce and interpret an image of the internal structures of the body

Rectocele: The prolapsing of the posterior vaginal wall that causes the rectum to bulge into the vagina as a result of the weakened wall of tissue between the two cavities

Recurrent: A medical issue that returns and does not seem to be majorly affected by treatment

Reducible: Refers to a physical condition that can be reduced in severity, either completely corrected or minimized to some degree

Reduction of Fracture: The healing of a bone fracture, with the bone returning to its normal state

Retroperitoneal: Refers to the area outside the peritoneum, the tissue that covers abdominal organs and lines the abdominal wall

Rotator Cuff: A structure made up of muscle and tendons that help to keep the shoulder joint stable and attaches the scapula and humerus


Sacral: Refers to the area where the sacrum is located, at the lower back near the tailbone and the very back of the pelvis

Scrotum: The sack of skin located below the penis that contains the testes and epididymis

SED Rate: The sedimentation rate is the distance red blood cells travel as they settle inside a test tube over the course of one hour. This test is used to check for diseases of the blood and bone marrow.

Septicemia: Also referred to as sepsis, it is a critical condition that is caused by the immune system’s overreaction to a bacterial infection, resulting in the immune system attacking the patient’s organs and tissues.

Shunt: A passageway that is created to allow blood and fluid to move from one place in the body to another

Skin Lesion: An abnormal area of skin that can change in appearance or size and may or may not be cancerous

Spinal Canal: The cavity containing the spinal cord that runs the length of the spine until the second lumbar vertebra

Stoma: An opening that is created surgically to allow access to the inside of the body from the outside. The mouth, anus, and nose are examples of naturally occurring stomata.

Supine: The anatomical term for when the body is lying on the back with the face positioned upward

Surgeon: Medical professional who specializes in surgical procedures and performs surgery on patients


Thin Prep Pap Screen: A test that uses samples from the cervix, vagina, and cervical canal to test for the presence of cervical cancer and HPV

Thoracic: Refers to the location of the thoracic spine, the middle part of the torso near the back

Throat Culture: A test that uses a swab of the throat to test for bacterial infections. It uses the sample collected to grow and identify bacteria in a culture.

Thyroid Gland: The butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that is part of the endocrine system. It secretes thyroid hormones that maintain and control the speed of different functions in the body.

Tibia: The long bone located in the calf under the femur and above the talus. It is accompanied and supported by the fibula.

Transurethral: Refers to a procedure carried out through the urethra

Transvaginal: Refers to a procedure carried out through the vagina

TSH: Short for thyroid-stimulating hormone, it is produced by the pituitary gland and helps to ensure proper functionality of the thyroid gland.


Ultrasound: A procedure that uses ultrasonic frequencies to produce an image of the inside of a body part. The ultrasound transducer emits sound waves that reflect off of internal structural boundaries between fluid and soft tissue or soft tissue and bone to create an image that outlines internal structures.

Umbilical: Refers to the location near or at the umbilicus, or navel

Urinalysis: Analysis of urine to detect the presence of various substances, such as drugs, bacteria, or blood excreted from the body

Urine Pregnancy Test: A form of pregnancy test that uses urine to check for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone made by a pregnant patient as early as ten days post-conception


Vascular: Refers to conditions or procedures involving the blood vessels

Vena Cavae: A set of two large veins in the body. The inferior vena cava carries blood from the lower body to the heart, and the superior vena cava carries blood from the upper part of the body, including the head and arms.

Ventral: Refers to the front of the body in anatomical position

Vitamin B12: Also called cobalamin, it is an important vitamin essential in the formation of red blood cells and DNA as well as in maintaining the function of nerve and brain cells.


X-Ray: A scan using an electromagnetic wave of energy that passes through bodily tissue to produce an image used in diagnosing conditions or injuries

Additional Resources

Make Health Informatics Work for You

Complete Pitt’s online MSHI in 16-24 months
Apply Now