Do You Know What These Medical Terms Mean?

Torrance Grey

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

A quick glance at television history makes one thing clear: People absolutely love medical dramas. From "ER" to "House M.D." to "Grey's Anatomy" and the most recent, "The Good Doctor," medical shows are evergreen. And unlike shows from the 1960s and '70s, today's shows don't gloss over the science. Overseen by consultants who have medical degrees themselves, hospital dramas are full of detail about disease, diagnoses, pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures.

This, in turn, means that the average person is far more knowledgeable than generations past about "doctor talk." Histology, cytology, other -ologies and -ectomies? These terms are no long a mystery. At least, we hope that's where you're getting your medical knowledge -- not from health issues of your own, or from dropping out of med school. (Not that there's anything wrong with that; med school classes famously shrink by about a third by graduation). 

Whatever brought you here, we've got a 35-question quiz on the names for medical maladies, medical procedures, and parts of the human anatomy. The questions will start relatively easy and get harder from there, so don't be lulled into a sense of false confidence. Also, many of the questions will be on root words, like "gyneco-." So a little knowledge of Latin and Greek will go a long way. Good luck!


Dermatology is the branch of medicine dealing with ____.

This one was probably easy. Dermatology practices are more publicly advertised than, say, cardiology, because there is a cosmetic angle to dermatology.

The suffix "-scopy" implies a/an ______.

"-scopy" means a scope is used (obviously). One of the better-known procedures (and dreaded ones) is colonscopy.

The prefix "dys-" describes ...

Don't confuse this with "dis-", which in a medical setting means "absent or taken away from." Like, for example, a dislocated shoulder.

Which of these is the prefix referring to blood?

Common terms with this beginning include "hemoglobin," "hemophilia" and "hemorrhage." (That last one, you'll see elsewhere in this quiz, so we've given you a clue!)

What does the prefix "inter-" mean?

Actually, this is the same way "inter-" is used outside medical settings. The word "intermediate" means between two states, like beginner and advanced. And in medicine, "intercostal" means "between the ribs."

Where would a doctor use an otoscope?

If you've had (or suspected having) an ear infection, you've had a doctor look at your eardrum with an otoscope. It's not painful, though the scope's short "snout" can feel awkward inside your ear.

What does "endo-" mean?

The term "endorphins" means feel-good substances created inside the body. This differentiates them from things you have to consume to feel good, like caffeine.

The suffix "-ectomy" refers to the ...

One of the best-known procedures in this area is "appendectomy." That is the removal of the appendix.

What does it mean if something is contraindicated?

When something is "indicated," it is encouraged or beneficial. When it is "contraindicated," it is not a good idea.

Anatomical description terms, part 1: What does "superior" mean?

There are several terms about position and location that medical students learn early on; these terms are used in exam and autopsy reports, et cetera. One of them is "superior," meaning that something is in a high position compared to something else.

Anatomical description terms, part 2: What is the opposite of "superior"?

"Inferior" means "in a lower position." It has nothing to do with how well the body part is functioning. By referring to the "inferior vena cava," your doctor isn't saying that this vein is in lousy shape.

Anatomical description terms, part 3: What does "anterior" describe?

You might have seen the blank illustration forms for autopsies that show a very basic human body from the front, then from the back. The first one is the "anterior" view, where the coroner would sketch in wounds to the chest, belly and so on.

Anatomical description terms, part 4: What does "posterior" refer to?

Some discreet writers (outside medicine, we mean) refer to a person's buttocks as their "posterior." But in medical terms, it's just "from behind." A view from the sides would be called "lateral."

Anatomical description terms, part 5: What does "dorsal" mean?

The words "dorsal" and "ventral" refer to the back and to the chest/belly, respectively. To describe a broader area, you'd use "posterior" and "anterior."

Excessive bleeding is called _______.

A "hemorrhage" is either excessive bleeding (like when it can't be stopped after a minor wound) or bleeding that shouldn't be happening at all. An example of the latter is a cerebral hemorrhage, which is one type of a stroke.

If you have hypotension, you have _____.

This is a less common and (usually) less worrisome condition that hypertension. You probably recognize that as high blood pressure.

A person with paraplegia is ...

Both the expressions "from the waist down" for a paraplegic and "neck down" for a quadriplegic are approximations. Depending on the type and location of the spinal cord injury, there is a variety of limb function that can remain.

A cranial exam involves the ____.

The word "cranium" refers only to the skull. The brain is far more complex, and has its own specialty, neurology.

Which of these root words pertains to the stomach?

This word isn't just found in the medical field. "Gastronomy" and "gastropub" are words that relate to cooking and to pleasing the stomach.

The word ending "-gesia" means ...

The suffixes "-dynia" or "-gesia" refer to pain. So does this mean that "analgesia" means ... No! No, it does not. "Analgesia" is the word for relief of pain, from the Greek "an-", meaning "not," and "algeisis," meaning "sense of pain."

If your lips are cyanotic, what are they?

If you've worked in printing or graphic arts, you probably knew this one. "Cyan" is the common's printer's term for blue.

Which of these root words pertain to cancer?

This is often seen in the words "carcinogen" and "carcinogenic," meaning substances that promote cancer. As with any subject that inspires fear, there's a lot of misinformation about what causes cancer. So don't take it on face value if someone tells you a dye or food additive is carcinogenic -- often, they're sincere but misinformed.

The endocrine system involves the ____ and _____.

The endocrine system is one of the most powerful in the body. Headed up by the pituitary and hypothalamus glands in the brain, it controls the chemical messengers that tell all the other systems how to function.

In general, a "pathology" is a ______.

We often think of "pathology" as psychological -- "psychopath" and "sociopath" are variations on the term. But a pathology is simply a disease or malfunction, whether of the body or the brain.

In the medical sense, "regulation" means ...

It's often the endocrine system that regulates functions in the body. For example, the hypothalamus controls body temperature, so an abnormal temperature can be a sign of hypothalamic dysregulation.

What does the prefix "leuko-" mean?

Several root words in medicine refer to colors, inlcuding "melan" or "melano-" for black. "Leuko-" is white, and is seen in "leukemia," a cancer involving white blood cells.

If a patient has pancreatitis, her pancreas is _____.

Words ending in "-itis" are the disorders involving inflammation. See also "gastroenteritis," an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines.

The prefix referring to cells is _____.

You might have heard of "cytology," which has two meanings. First, it's the clinical/microscopic examination of cells. Second, it's a branch of biology dealing with the structure and function of cells.

Which of these medical terms takes its name from a Roman goddess?

"Venereal" is derived from the name of Venus, the goddess of love. Apparently, the belief was that where love went, STDs would follow!

"Histo-" is the prefix referring to ...

This one is easily confused with "cyto-" the prefix for cells. Whether a pathologist is examining "tissues" or just "cells" is a pretty fine distinction.

An oophorectomy is removal of the ____.

"Ovary" is related to the Latin word for "egg" (though they are shaped more like almonds). Likewise, "oo-" is the Latin-derived prefix for words related to eggs.

"Hyperplasia" is excessive _____.

The suffix for growth is "-plasia." In men, benign prostatic hyperplasia is common, meaning that the prostate gland has enlarged, but is not cancerous.

What is the common term for erythema solare?

Sunlight contains ultraviolet radiation. Getting too much in a short time causes erythema solare, or sunburn.

What is "sepsis"?

Think of the system that carries human waste out of homes: it's the septic sytem. Likewise, "sepsis" or "septic" implies that something dirty or unhealthful has gotten into the human body.

Bonus question: The "interstitium" is believed to be a/an ____.

This is a tricky one. It was just recently, in 2018, that researchers have said they've identified a new organ. the interstitium. Like the skin, it isn't in any one place in the body, but wraps around many organs, as the name implies. Whether the medical community comes to accept it as a true organ is still under debate.

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