How Good Is Your Medical Vocabulary?

By: Torrance Grey

How Good Is Your Medical Vocabulary?
Image: Asiseeit / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Hopefully, you're in perfect health and have no reason to have learned a lot of medical terminology. But maybe a bit has sneaked into your vocabulary via other routes ... maybe you were thinking about going to medical school, have a doctor or nurse in the family or just love medical dramas on TV. Whatever the reason, we've got a quiz for you!

You'll have a leg up, by the way, if you studied Latin in school. Even more than Greek, this was the go-to language when it came time to map the body and name its parts (and its diseases). Fun fact: Latin was so important in the early days of the scientific revolution that even scientists themselves were renamed in Latin! Case in point: Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, was born Carl von Linne; he was Swedish. In publications and texts, he became Carolus Linnaeus. Modern textbooks have split the difference: first name Swedish-style, last name Latin. 

It'll also help you to know prefixes and suffixes; that is, an "-itis" from an "-osis." And the "directions" of the body, like "proximal," "medial," "ventral," and "dorsal." Whew! We're getting tired just thinking about how complex medical lingo is ... but, hopefully, you're just getting warmed up. Good luck!

What does the prefix "neuro-" refer to?
The brain and nerves
Remember "n for nerves" and you've got this one covered. The nervous system is one of two systems by which the body sends messages from one part to another, usually from the brain to outlying areas. The other is the endocrine system, which uses hormones as messengers.
The kidneys
The liver
Skin

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__________ is a severe allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening swelling of tissues, especially those in the airway, which can lead to suffocation. Patients sometimes have anaphylactic reactions to bee stings (among other triggers), and carry epinephrine auto-injectors in case of emergency.
Hypothermia
Demyelination
Tetanus

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Where in the body do you find "marrow"?
The bones
You likely learned in third- or fourth-grade health science that bone marrow is where new blood cells are created. It's also where certain immune cells are formed. (The thymus is the other part of the body involved in making immune cells).
The nose
The stomach
The uterus

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Closely related to "cerebral," this word actually refers to the skull, not the brain. It is ...
Cranial
We remember this one thanks to the late Ann Landers. The advice columnist liked to say that kooky people had "a geranium in his/her cranium." It refers to the skull or "braincase," not the brain itself.
Frontal
Medullar
Tibular

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"Hepatic" is an adjective describing which body part?
Eyes
Liver
You might be familiar with "hepatitis," or inflammation of the liver. There are five varieties of hepatitis, A through E. (Or six, if you watched "True Blood" and learned about hepatitis V, the kind that affected vampires).
Stomach
Teeth

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An injury to the brain might be described as a ______ trauma.
Cerebral
"Cerebral" relates to the brain. It has been adopted into everyday English as a synonym for "intellectual," but the former term still has a medical meaning, whereas "intellectual" does not. An "intellectual" injury might be the embarrassment of thinking you just quoted Socrates, only to be told the words were from a Hallmark card instead.
Intellectual
Hepatic
Planar

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Which of these is another name for "nerve cell"?
Pituocyte
Neuron
This one was probably easy, because of a previous question about the prefix "neuro-". A "synapse" is a related term, meaning the connection between neurons.
Synapse
Vertebra

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What is the opposite of "anterior"?
Medial
Ulnar
Posterior
This is another pair of terms that helps medical professionals find their way around the body. "Anterior" is front and "posterior" is rear. For example, the pituitary gland is divided into an anterior and posterior lobe, each of which has a different set of functions.
Radial

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What is the informal name for the patella?
Brainpan
Kneecap
The patella is a flat triangular bone that protects the knee joint from injury. Well, it does so until we injure the knee anyway, by playing pickup basketball, or rugby, or taking up snowboarding at 50 ... any of the unwise things humans are prone to doing.
Pinky
Thumb

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Although the suffix "-itis" can generally mean disease, it most often refers specifically to what?
Immune failure
Inflammation
Inflammation is a common medical problem and can be anything from a minor annoyance to a life-threatening condition. In the latter category, consider "pancreatitis," a dangerous inflammation of the pancreas.
Cell death
Subnormal temperature

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Which of these is a bone in the arm?
Humerus
The humerus is the long bone that runs from your shoulder to your elbow. From the elbow to the hand, two bones make the connection: the radius and ulna, which are parallel to each other.
Patella
Metacarpal
Metatarsal

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Which of these is another name for the hormone "epinephrine"?
Adrenalin
This hormone is named for its position in the body. The partial word "-nephri" refers to the kidneys, while "epi-" means "over." The adrenal gland, therefore, sits atop the kidneys. Sidebar: It's good to have a backup name for this hormone, as "adrenalin" has been almost completely taken over by car buffs talking about muscle cars.
Estrogen
Ghrelin
Leptin

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If you're talking about the veins and arteries, you might use the word ...
Ductal
Subductal
Venous
Vascular
"Venous" refers only to veins and is usually used in relation to the blood that flows through the veins. If you need a word that covers *all* the blood vessels, "vascular" is the right choice.

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Where would you find synovial fluid?
Hair follicles
A joint
Synovial fluid is said to resemble egg whites (and we're sure it does; we're just glad we've never had an accident bad enough to confirm this in person!) Its purpose is to lubricate the inside of a joint, protecting it from regular friction.
The stomach
The uterus

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What does the word "serum" refer to?
White blood cells
Red blood cells
The liquid, non-cellular part of blood
Generally speaking, this refers to plasma, minus cells called "fibrinogens." When you have a blood test to check whether medication is getting into your bloodstream properly, the test results will refer to your "serum levels" of the drug (or its metabolites).
White matter in the brain

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Which of these is the informal name for the tibia?
Ankle
Ring finger
Funny bone
Shinbone
There are two bones that run from your knee to your ankle, the tibia and the fibula. The tibia is the one in front, which means that when an angry little kid kicks you, the tibia is the bone that takes the hit.

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If you're seeing a "nephrologist," what part of the body are you worried about?
Glands
Kidneys
Our public-service announcement of the day: If you're having back pain and pain with urination, it can be easy to dismiss these symptoms as "getting older disease." However, these are two signs of pyelonephritis, or kidney infection. If they persist, have these symptoms checked out.
Stomach
Zygote

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Which of these bones is casually called the elbow?
Femur
Tarsal
Patella
The elbow is not a bone.
The elbow is the name for the joint, not a bone. If you must have a formal name for this, you could use the Latin term "cubitus," though it only turns up in medical terminology in its adjective form, "cubital."

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Where in the body would you find osteoblasts or osteoclasts?
Bones
The prefix "osteo-" comes from the Latin word "os," which, confusingly, can mean either "bone" or "mouth." Osteoblasts and osteoclasts are types of cells, encouraging the creation and the breakdown of bone material, respectively.
The cerebral cortex
Muscles
The kidneys

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Which of these is the longest bone in the human body?
Cervical spine
Femur
The femur is casually called the "thigh bone," and runs from the pelvis to the knee. The femoral artery is named for it, a large-bore artery that is very dangerous to accidentally cut into (but, fortunately, is well-protected by a layer of thick muscle.)
Radius
Tibia

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A "pathogen" is anything that causes _____.
Cancer
Disease
This is a fairly broad term. Often, though, we think of pathogens as being microbial, because they often are. An example is E. coli, a bacterium which causes nasty food poisoning.
Fever
Cell growth

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If something in the body is "interstitial," what is it?
Fluid
Solid
Not very severe
In-between
You'll find the word "interstitial" in usages far afield of medicine; it's used to describe things that exist in the gaps between almost anything. In medicine, it often refers to the space between tissues in the organs, e.g. interstitial cystitis in the lungs.

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Your "endocrine" system makes and manages what?
Blood cells
Hormones
Hormones get a bad rap. In popular culture, they're considered the thing that makes men get in fights (testosterone) or women binge on Haagen-Dazs (estrogen). In truth, these two hormones are far more subtle and complex in their functioning. Others, like insulin, are essential for survival.
Immune cells
Urine

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Which of these is a region of the brain (but not a lobe)?
The atrium
The cervix
The retina
The thalamus
The thalamus is a region of the brain responsible for sleep and waking, alertness, and the release or inhibition of a number of important hormones. Other, similar functions are taken on by the hypothalamus, so named because it is located below the thalamus.

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One of these words, usually associated with trees, is also applied to teeth. Which is it?
Coniferous
Deciduous
"Deciduous teeth" are better known as baby teeth or milk teeth. In forests, a deciduous tree is one that sheds leaves in autumn and regrows them in the spring, as opposed to evergreens, which have leaves or needles year-round.
Angiosperm
Monocot

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A general region of the brain is called a what?
A cortex
A lobe
The brain has six lobes. While they are generally defined as "regions," certain functions do tend to cluster in certain lobes. For example, religious ideation or feelings of spirituality tend to arise from the temporal lobe.
A fold
A span

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"Olfactory" describes the functions of which sense?
Hearing
SIght
Smell
This term refers to the sense of smell or to the nose. Fun fact: Did you know that it's a myth that you only have five senses? Other senses include "proprioception," the awareness of one's body in space, which is rooted in far more than touch, and the awareness of the passage of time, sometimes called the "body clock."
Touch

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Which of these is the best definition of "Western medicine"?
Pharmaceuticals derived from herbs in the Western or desert states
Basic emergency care practiced by cowboys and ranch hands
A tradition of medicine rooted in European values going back for millennia
A 20th-century term creating an artificial distinction between European and Asian medicine
Don't @ us! Linguistic research bears out that the term "Western medicine" was virtually unheard of before about 1920, and began a rapid ascent around 1960. The truth is that premodern medicine looked the same all over the world -- herbs, bloodletting, prayers -- just as today, evidence-based medicine looks the same all over the world. Chinese and Indian medical researchers lead the way in stem-cell therapy and other cutting-edge, lifesaving procedures.

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If a drug's effect is "inhibitory," what does it do?
Blocks a substance, or prevents an effect
This term is also common in describing precursor hormones (ones that influence other hormones). For example, dopamine is also known as "prolactin-inhibiting hormone," meaning that dopamine prevents the creation of prolactin, a hormone that stimulates production of breast milk.
Bonds to cell receptors
Rapidly breaks down in the bloodstream
All of the above

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The dreaded (but far from life-threatening) malady of herpes takes its name from what type of animals?
Bees
Birds
Reptiles
Herpetology is the study of reptiles; the word comes from the Greek "herpetos," meaning "crawling." Labial herpes appears as fever blisters on the rips or, more rarely, inside the mouth. It is not serious or life-threatening, but can be quite stigmatizing.
Mammals

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The ovary is a ...
Cell
Gland
Organ
Both a gland and an organ
The confusion here comes from the definition of "gland." Some people say it's a type of organ, others not. In fact, there's no exact consensus on how many organs the human body has. At any rate, the ovaries are glands that create egg cells, allowing reproduction of the species (human or otherwise).

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What is a "caduceus"?
The smallest region of the brain
A gland controlling body temperature
The staff-and-snakes symbol of the medical profession
Technically, a caduceus has a staff, two snakes and two wings. People with extensive knowledge of ancient symbols will tell you that the caduceus is a flawed choice to represent the medical profession. It was a common symbol of a tribune or messenger of the gods, but the symbol of the healer was the Rod of Asclepius, a single staff with only one snake.
A discreet tunnel leading from the morgue to the outside world

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An "oocyte" is what kind of cell?
Brain
Egg
It's a funny little word, isn't it? If you like, you can use its variant, "ovocyte" (which makes the connection to "egg" and "ovary" etymologically clearer). In essence, we're talking about the cells that travel from the ovaries to the uterus to be fertilized.
Lung
Stem

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Which of these is the opposite of "dorsal"?
Proximal
Medial
Planar
Ventral
There are more than a dozen general terms that let medical people "navigate" the body (often in sketches or at autopsy), and often these terms are paired up as opposites. "Dorsal" and "ventral" are "back" and "stomach," respectively.

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Believe it or not, this anatomical term means "little mouse"!
Gamete
Joint
Muscle
"Musculus" is "little mouse in Latin (the suffix "-ulus" or "-culus" is a diminutive, making a word smaller). So our muscles, which we think of as making us big and strong, actually have a rather humbling name!
Quadricep

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