For Patients & Visitors > Patients & Visitors Home > LLUMC - patient education: glossary

Glossary

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - L - M - N - O - P - R - S - T - U - V - X

A

Abscess

A pus mass, caused by an infection, that builds up and may burst.

Acupuncture

A traditional Chinese therapeutic technique in which fine needles are inserted into the skin and either left or manipulated.

Acute

Extremely severe or sharp (acute pain); reaching a crisis rapidly (used of a disease)

Adhesion

Fibrous scars caused when body tissues that are normally separate are joined. Abdominal adhesions may be painful when stretched, because fibrous tissue is not elastic.

Allergen

A substance, such as food, fur, pollen, or dust, that is normally harmless but causes an allergic reaction in susceptible persons.

Amnesia

Memory loss, either partial or complete.

Analgesic

A medication that reduces or eliminates pain.

Anoxia

Lack of oxygen. Anoxic tissues cannot function properly and will die if they are completely deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes.

Antibiotic

A substance that combats bacterial infection. Antibiotics are usually derived from living organisms.

Antibodies

Complex substances formed to neutralize or destroy foreign matter in the blood. Antibody activity usually fights infection, but can be damaging in allergies and in autoimmune diseases.

Anticoagulant

A medication that prevents formation of blood clots.

Anticonvulsant

A medication that prevents or relieves seizures.

Antidepressant

A medication that prevents or treats depression.

Antiemetic

A medication that prevents or alleviates nausea or vomiting.

Antifungal

A medication that combats fungal infections.

Antigen

Any substance that is detected by the body's immune system. Discovery of an antigen usually stimulates formation of antibodies to combat it. (see antibodies, above)

Antihistamine

A medication that counteracts some types of allergy.

Anti-inflammatory

A medication that reduces the redness, heat, and swelling that occur in infections and other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Antiseptic

Any substance that kills infectious agents. Antiseptics are too strong to be swallowed or injected into the body.

Antiserum

Serum (watery fluid from the tissues of humans or animals) that has antibodies for at least one antigen.

Antispasmodic

A medication that eases or prevents spasm.

Antitoxin

A substance that neutralizes a toxin (or poison).

Appendectomy

Surgical removal of the appendix (a small organ located where the large and small intestines join).

Arrhythmias

Variations in the normal rhythm of the heartbeat.

Aspiration

Removal of liquids or gases using an instrument such as a syringe.

Ataxia

Lack of coordination in body movements due to nerve or brain damage.

Autoimmune

A condition in which the body makes antibodies against its own tissues, and damages itself (see antibodies, above).

Barium enema

An enema containing barium, which can be seen on X-rays. A series of pictures taken while the enema is retained in the bowel shows the lining of the colon and rectum. The procedure takes about an hour.

Benign

Describing an abnormal growth that will neither spread nor recur after removal (compare Malignant, below)

Beta-blocker

A medication that slows heart activity and lowers blood pressure.

Biofeedback

A technique in which an attempt is made to consciously regulate a bodily function thought to be involuntary (as heartbeat or blood pressure), by using an instrument to monitor the function and to signal changes in it.

Biopsy

A small piece of tissue removed from the body for microscopic analysis.

Botulism

An extremely dangerous food poisoning caused by bacterium usually found in improperly canned or preserved foods. Botulism is characterized by vomiting, abdominal pain, coughing, muscular weakness, and visual disturbance.

Candida

A group of yeast-like fungi that may produce infection.

Carcinogen

Any substance that can cause cancer.

Carcinoma

A malignant growth composed of abnormally multiplying surface tissues. Carcinomas, the most common type of cancer, can often be treated successfully if discovered early.

Catheter

A slender, flexible tube used to withdraw liquid (or air) from or to squirt fluid into a part of the body (such as the bladder or a blood vessel).

Cauterization

Destruction of tissue by burning it away with a caustic chemical, a red-hot instrument, or electricity. Cauterization can be used to remove growths on the skin or mucous membrane (such as warts).

Cholesterol

A steroid-like substance present in some foods, notably animal fats, eggs, and dairy products. A high cholesterol level is associated with atherosclerosis, and may cause gallstones. However, some cholesterol in the body is necessary for healthy functioning.

Chromosomes

The part of a living cell that contains the cell's genetic information. Each chromosome is made up of thousands of genes, and all cells in complex organisms, except reproductive cells, contain paired sets of chromosomes (one from each parent). Chromosomes in reproductive cells are not paired.

Colic

Acute abdominal pain, caused by spasm, obstruction, or distention of any of the hollow organs. In infants, colic usually results from accumulation of gas in the digestive system.

Congenital

A term used for a disease or condition that is present at birth.

Congestive

A term applied to heart failure when both sides of the heart are affected.

Contagious

A term applied to diseases that can spread from person to person.

Curettage

Surgical scraping of a bodily cavity (as in the uterus).

Cyanosis

Blueness of the skin caused by inadequate blood oxygenation.

Cytotoxic

A medication that destroys cells; used to treat cancer.

Dehydration

Excessive loss of water from the body, often due to severe vomiting or diarrhea.

Dialysis

Artificial removal of waste products from the body by clearing either the blood (hemodialysis) or the digestive tract (peritoneal dialysis).

Diastolic

The lower reading obtained when blood pressure is measured. Diastole is the part of the heart's cycle when the chambers are relaxing and refilling with blood.

Dilation

The widening of a passageway or body opening.

Diuretic

A substance that increases the urine production.

Drip

The common name for an intravenous infusion (IV). A hollow tube is inserted into a vein, through which the liquid runs from an elevated sterile container.

Dyspepsia

Indigestion.

Edema

The swelling of body tissue due to excess water.

Embolism

Sudden blockage of a blood vessel caused by a blood clot or other material.

Endoscope

A tube-like instrument equipped with a light and lens system used to examine the interior of a body canal or hollow organ.

Enema

The injection of liquid through the anus into the rectum for cleansing, as a laxative, or for other therapeutic purposes.

Enzymes

Proteins produced by a living organism and necessary for accomplishing chemical changes, such as breaking down food within the intestine.

Estrogen

One of the main sex hormones responsible for female sexual characteristics. In women, estrogen is made in the ovaries; in men, small amounts are produced in the testes.

Fungicide

A medication used to treat fungal infections.

Gamma globulin

A type of blood protein that includes antibodies. Gamma globulins can be extracted from donated blood and used to prevent or treat infections (such as measles or hepatitis).

Hematoma

A localized swelling filled with blood, caused by a break in the wall of a blood vessel.

Hemorrhage

Bleeding, either internal (within a body cavity) or external (from the skin or an opening).

Herpes simplex

A virus that causes cold sores around the lips and mouth, and blisters on the genitals, pubic area, thighs, and buttocks.

Herpes zoster

A painful viral nerve disease commonly called shingles.

Histamine

A chemical released into the body when an allergic reaction occurs. Itching is one common symptom.

Hormone replacement therapy

The giving of hormones, in drug form, to replace those no longer made naturally (such as treatment of diabetes with insulin).

Hyperbaric

A term used to describe a pressure greater than normal atmospheric pressure.

Immunosuppressive

A medication that suppresses the natural immune response to an antigen.

Incubation period

The time lag between infection and appearance of symptoms. During this time, infectious agents are multiplying but are insufficient in number to cause symptoms or infect other people. Incubation periods range from a few days (influenza) to months (hepatitis).

Intensive care unit (ICU)

A section in the Medical Center where special medical equipment and services are concentrated for seriously ill patients.

Intravenous fluid

Such essentials as water, salt, sugar, protein, minerals, and vitamins, given by drip (see drip).

Laser beam

An strong, controlled light beam powerful enough to cut, destroy, or fuse body tissues. Laser beams can be precisely focused for use in delicate operations such as eye surgery. The word stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Lobectomy

Surgical removal of a lobe, or section of an organ (such as thyroid, liver, brain, or lung).

Lumbar puncture

A procedure for investigating or treating nervous system diseases by inserting a needle between the vertebrae at the base of the spine to tap cerebrospinal fluid and occasionally inject medication. Lumbar puncture is done under local anesthetic and takes about 20 minutes.

Malignant

Designating an abnormal growth that tends to spread (metastasize), and eventually cause death. Malignant tumors sometimes recur after apparent removal (see benign).

Meninges

Membranes enclosing the brain and spinal cord.

Menopause

The period of cessation of menstruation, usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 50.

Metastasis

Transmission of disease from an original site to one or more sites elsewhere in the body (as in tuberculosis or cancer).

Muscle relaxant

A medication that relaxes tense muscles or muscles in spasm.

Nasogastric tube

A term applied to a thin, flexible tube that can be passed through a nostril into the stomach via the throat. Nasogastric tubes are used for passing nourishment into the digestive system or for draining away digestive juices.

Obstructed

A term meaning blocked, usually referring to a passageway from one part of the body to another.

Ophthalmoscope

An instrument that includes a source of light used to view the interior of the eye.

Percuss

To tap firmly on the body with the fingers, used to map out the area of an organ and detect possible changes in the consistency of its tissues.

Peristalsis

The rhythmic, wave-like contraction of muscles that propels food along the digestive tract.

Placenta

The organ that nourishes the fetus while it is in the womb, and that also produces hormones responsible for many of the changes in the mother's body during pregnancy.

Plaque (arterial)

A patch of fatty tissue (known as atheroma), on the inside lining of an artery.

Plasmapheresis

A procedure in which blood is removed from a vein and spun in a centrifuge to separate plasma from blood cells. The cells, along with replacement plasma, are then re-injected into the patient's vein.

Polyp

An outgrowth of tissue from the skin or mucous membrane. Polyps are often caused by inflammation and are rarely malignant.

Polyunsaturated

A term for fats that are thought to be least likely to encourage production of arterial plaque when eaten in quantity (see Plaque, arterial). Polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid than saturated fats.

Prolapse

The falling down or slipping out of place of an organ or part (such as the uterus).

Prophylactic

A substance or procedure that helps to prevent disease.

Prosthesis

An artificial device to replace a limb, tooth, or other body part.

Proton

The positively charged unit of the nuclear mass. Protons form part of the atom's nucleus, around which negative electrons revolve. In radiation therapy, protons and other heavy charged particles deliver the bulk of their energy at the point where they cease traveling. Conventional forms of external-beam radiation therapy do the opposite. This often means that the dose necessary to destroy a tumor cannot be given with conventional radiation therapy, since that dose can irreparably harm normal tissues overlying the tumor.

Radiation therapy

Treatment of disease by either radioactivity or X-rays.

Reduction

A medical term for either the manipulation into correct position of a dislocated joint or fractured bone, or the pushing of a hernia back into its proper place.

Respirator

A machine, sometimes called a ventilator, that pumps air in and out of the lungs to compensate for the loss of natural breathing.

Salmonella

A bacteria that causes food poisoning, gastrointestinal inflammation, or disease of the genital tract.

Sarcoma

A malignant tumor arising from diseased connective tissue.

Saturated

A term applied to fats that are thought to encourage production of arterial plaque when eaten in quantity (see Polyunsaturated and Plaque, arterial).

Spasm

Sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles.

Sphincter

A ring of muscle that narrows or closes off a passageway by contracting.

Splenectomy

Surgical removal of the spleen.

Staphylococcus

A group of bacteria that can cause serious infections in various parts of the body.

Steroid

A group of chemicals, many normally found in the body. Most steroids are hormones and affect body processes such as the overcoming of inflammation. Steroids medication decreases inflammation and inhibits immune reactions.

Stethoscope

An instrument used for listening to sounds produced within the body.

Streptococcus

Bacteria responsible for diseases such as bacterial pneumonia, scarlet fever, and rheumatic fever. They also cause "strept" throat, a severe sore throat that is common in children and is sometimes found in adults.

Suture

Thread for sewing up wounds or surgical incisions. Stitches fashioned with the thread are also called sutures.

Synovium

A membrane that lines the tough layers surrounding a joint or tendon.

Systolic

The higher of the two readings obtained when blood pressure is measured. Systolic refers to systole, the period when the chambers of the heart contract, and blood is pumped into the arteries (see Diastolic).

Testosterone

A male sex hormone produced in the testes and functioning to control secondary sex characteristics.

Tetany

Muscle twitching and cramps caused by a lack of calcium in the blood.

Throat culture

A mucus sample taken from the throat to detect the possible presence of infection.

Thrombosis

The formation, presence, or development of a blood clot.

Tonsillectomy

Surgical removal of the tonsils.

Toxin

Poison.

Trauma

Any wound or injury.

Tremor

An involuntary trembling motion of the body.

Ulcer

An open sore on any external or internal surface of the body. The tissues of an ulcerous area rot away, and pus can ooze from the sore.

Vaccine

A solution containing a killed or altered strain of a disease-producing organism. Vaccines create resistance to the diseases they cause.

Vasoconstrictor

A substance, such as a nerve or a drug, that causes blood vessels to narrow.

Vasodilator

A substance, such as a nerve or a drug, that causes blood vessels to widen.

X-rays

Rays with a short wavelength that enables them to pass through body tissues. X-rays are used in diagnostics and radiation therapy.

[Top]