Glossary of Terms
Adrenaline: A substance produced by the medulla
(inside) of the adrenal gland, adrenaline (the official name
in the British Pharmacopoeia) is synonymous with
epinephrine. Technically speaking, adrenaline is a
sympathomimetic catecholamine. It causes quickening of the
heart beat, strengthens the force of the heart's
contraction, opens up the bronchioles in the lungs and has
numerous other effects. The secretion of adrenaline by the
adrenal is part of the "fight-or-flight" reaction that we
have in response to being frightened.
Amnesia: Lack of memory. Amnesia after trauma can
be antegrade or retrograde, depending upon whether the lack
of memory relates to events occurring after or before the
trauma. Amnesia is as compared to hypermnesia and hypomnesia.
From a- + the Greek mneme, memory.
Anesthesia: Loss of feeling or awareness. A
general anesthetic puts the person to sleep. A local
anesthetic causes loss of feeling in a part of the body such
as a tooth or an area of skin without affecting
consciousness. Regional anesthesia numbs a larger part of
the body such as a leg or arm, also without affecting
consciousness. The term "conduction anesthesia" encompasses
both local and regional anesthetic techniques. Many surgical
procedures can be done with conduction anesthesia without
significant pain. In many situations, such as a C-section,
conduction anesthesia is safer and therefore preferable to
general anesthesia. However, there are also many types of
surgery in which general anesthesia is clearly appropriate.
Anesthesiologist: A physician or, less often, a
dentist who is specialized in the practice of
anesthesiology, the branch of medicine involving the use of
drugs or other agents that cause insensibility to pain.
Anesthetic: A substance that causes lack of
feeling or awareness. A local anesthetic causes loss of
feeling in a part of the body. A general anesthetic puts the
person to sleep.
Anesthetist: 1. In the US, a nurse or
technician trained to administer anesthetics.
2. In the UK, the same as an anesthesiologist.
Anterior: The front, as opposed to the posterior.
The anterior surface of the heart is toward the breast bone
Artery: A vessel that carries blood high in oxygen
content away from the heart to the farthest reaches of the
body. Since blood in arteries is usually full of oxygen, the
hemoglobin in the red blood cells is oxygenated. The
resultant form of hemoglobin (oxyhemoglobin) is what makes
arterial blood look bright red.
Axilla: The cavity beneath the junction of the arm
and the body, better known as the armpit.
Axillary: Pertaining to the cavity beneath the
junction of the arm and the body, better known as the
Brachial plexus: A network of spinal nerves that
originates in the back of the neck, extends through the
axilla (armpit), and gives rise to nerves to the upper limb.
The brachial plexus is formed by the union of portions of
the fifth through eighth cervical nerves and the first
thoracic nerve, all of which come from the spinal cord.
Capsule: Capsule has many meanings in medicine
including the following:
- In medicine, a membranous structure that envelops an
organ, a joint, tumor, or any other part of the body. It
is usually made up of dense collagen-containing
- In pharmacy, a solid dosage form in which the drug
is enclosed in a hard or soft soluble container, usually
of a form of gelatin.
- In microbiology, a coat around a microbe, such as a
bacterium or fungus.
Cartilage: Firm, rubbery tissue that cushions
bones at joints. A more flexible kind of cartilage connects
muscles with bones and makes up other parts of the body,
such as the larynx and the outside parts of the ears.
Circumflex: Curved like a bow. In anatomy,
circumflex describes a structure that bends around like a
bow. For example, the circumflex branch of the left coronary
Complication: In medicine, an additional problem
that arises following a procedure, treatment or illness and
is secondary to it. A complication complicates the
Compression: The act of pressing together. As in a
compression fracture, nerve compression, or spinal cord
Depression: An illness that involves the body,
mood, and thoughts, that affects the way a person eats and
sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one
thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same
as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal
weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with
a depressive disease cannot merely "pull themselves
together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can
last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment,
however, can help most people with depression.
Diagnosis: 1 The nature of a disease; the
identification of an illness. 2 A conclusion or
decision reached by diagnosis. The diagnosis is rabies. 3
The identification of any problem. The diagnosis was a
Dislocated shoulder: The shoulder joint is the
most mobile joint in the body and allows the arm to move in
many directions. This ability to move makes the joint
inherently unstable and also makes the shoulder the most
often dislocated joint in the body. Dislocations of the
shoulder occur when the head of the humerus (upper arm bone)
is dislocated from its socket in the shoulder blade. Ninety
percent or more of shoulder dislocations are anterior
dislocations, meaning that the humeral head has been moved
to a position in front of the joint.
Elbow: The juncture of the long bones in the
middle portion of the arm. The bone of the upper arm
(humerus) meets both the ulna (the inner bone of the
forearm) and radius (the outer bone of the forearm) to form
a hinge joint at the elbow. The radius and ulna also meet
one another in the elbow to permit a small amount of
rotation of the forearm. The elbow therefore functions to
move the arm like a hinge (forward and backward) and in
rotation (outward and inward). The biceps muscle is the
major muscle that flexes the elbow hinge, and the triceps
muscle is the major muscle that extends it. The primary
stability of the elbow is provided by the ulnar collateral
ligament, located on the medial (inner) side of the elbow.
The outer bony prominence of the elbow is the lateral
epicondyle, a part of the humerus bone. Tendons attached to
this area can be injured, causing inflammation or tendonitis
(lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow). The inner portion
of the elbow is a bony prominence called the medial
epicondyle of the humerus. Additional tendons from muscles
attach here and can be injured, likewise causing
inflammation or tendonitis (medial epicondylitis, or
Fracture: A break in bone or cartilage. Although
usually the result of trauma, a fracture can be caused by an
acquired disease of bone such as osteoporosis or by abnormal
formation of bone in a disease such as osteogenesis
imperfecta ("brittle bone disease"). Fractures are
classified according to their character and location as, for
example, a greenstick fracture of the radius.
Frozen shoulder: Constant severe limitation of the
range of motion of the shoulder due to scarring around the
shoulder joint (adhesive capsulitis). Frozen shoulder is an
unwanted consequence of rotator cuff disease: damage to the
rotator cuff, the set of four tendons that stabilize the
shoulder joint and help move the shoulder in diverse
directions. Rotator cuff disease can be due to trauma,
inflammation or degeneration. The common symptom is pain in
the shoulder of gradual or sudden onset, typically located
to the front and side of the shoulder, increasing when the
shoulder is moved away from the body. (A person with severe
tears in the rotator cuff tendons may not be able to hold
that arm up).
Heart: The muscle that pumps blood received from
veins into arteries throughout the body. It is positioned in
the chest behind the sternum (breastbone; in front of the
trachea, esophagus, and aorta; and above the diaphragm
muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities. The
normal heart is about the size of a closed fist, and weighs
about 10.5 ounces. It is cone-shaped, with the point of the
cone pointing down to the left. Two-thirds of the heart lies
in the left side of the chest with the balance in the right
Humerus: The long bone in the arm which extends
from the shoulder to the elbow.
Ibuprofen: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
(NSAID) commonly used to treat pain, swelling, and
fever. Common brand names for Ibuprofen include Advil,
Motrin, and Nuprin.
Incision: A cut. When making an incision, a
surgeon is making a cut.
Inferior: In anatomy, below or toward the feet. As
opposed to superior. The liver is inferior to the lungs.
Injury: Harm or hurt. The term "injury" may be
applied in medicine to damage inflicted upon oneself as in a
hamstring injury or by an external agent on as in a cold
injury. The injury may be accidental or deliberate, as with
a needlestick injury. The term "injury" may be synonymous
(depending on the context) with a wound or with trauma.
Joint: A joint is the area where two bones are
attached for the purpose of motion of body parts. A joint is
usually formed of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage.
An articulation or an arthrosis is the same as a joint.
Labrum: In medicine, a ring of fibrocartilage
(fibrous cartilage) around the edge of the articular (joint)
surface of a bone. The term labrum is used in anatomy to
designate a lip, edge, or brim. Plural: labra.
Lesion: Pronounced "lee-sion" with the emphasis on
the "lee," a lesion can be almost any abnormality involving
any tissue or organ due to any disease or any injury.
Ligament: A ligament is a tough band of connective
tissue that connects various structures such as two bones.
Lightheadedness: A feeling you are "going to
faint." Lightheadedness is medically distinct from
dizziness, unsteadiness, and vertigo.
Magnetic resonance imaging: A special radiology
technique designed to image internal structures of the body
using magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce the
images of body structures. In magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI), the scanner is a tube surrounded by a giant circular
magnet. The patient is placed on a moveable bed that is
inserted into the magnet. The magnet creates a strong
magnetic field that aligns the protons of hydrogen atoms,
which are then exposed to a beam of radio waves. This spins
the various protons of the body, and they produce a faint
signal that is detected by the receiver portion of the MRI
scanner. A computer processes the receiver information, and
an image is produced. The image and resolution is quite
detailed and can detect tiny changes of structures within
the body, particularly in the soft tissue, brain and spinal
cord, abdomen and joints.
Medical history: In clinical medicine, the
patient's past and present which may contain clues bearing
on their health past, present, and future. The medical
history, being an account of all medical events and problems
a person has experienced, including psychiatric illness, is
especially helpful when a differential diagnosis is needed.
Morphine: A powerful narcotic agent with strong
analgesic (painkilling) action and other significant effects
on the central nervous system. It is dangerously addicting.
Morphine is a naturally occurring member of a large chemical
class of compounds called alkaloids.
MRI: Abbreviation and nickname for magnetic
Muscle: Muscle is the tissue of the body which
primarily functions as a source of power. There are three
types of muscle in the body. Muscle which is responsible for
moving extremities and external areas of the body is called
"skeletal muscle." Heart muscle is called "cardiac muscle."
Muscle that is in the walls of arteries and bowel is called
Muscle relaxant: Muscle relaxant is a term usually
used to refer to skeletal muscle relaxants (drugs), which
act on the central nervous system (CNS) to relax muscles.
These drugs are often prescribed to reduce pain and soreness
associated with sprains, strains, or other types of muscle
injury. Some examples of commonly prescribed skeletal muscle
relaxant medications include carisoprodol (Soma),
cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), and metaxalone (Skelaxin), which
are taken in tablet form. Muscle relaxant drugs are only
available by prescription in the U.S.
Nausea: Nausea, is the urge to vomit. It can be
brought by many causes including, systemic illnesses, such
as influenza, medications, pain, and inner ear disease. When
nausea and/or vomiting are persistent, or when they are
accompanied by other severe symptoms such as abdominal pain,
jaundice, fever, or bleeding, a physician should be
Nerve: A bundle of fibers that uses chemical and
electrical signals to transmit sensory and motor information
from one body part to another.
Nurse: 1) A person trained, licensed, or skilled
in nursing. 2) To feed an infant at the breast.
Operating room: A facility equipped for performing
surgery. Abbreviated OR.
Operation: Although there are many meanings to the
word "operation", in medicine it refers to a surgical
Pain: An unpleasant sensation that can range from
mild, localized discomfort to agony. Pain has both physical
and emotional components. The physical part of pain results
from nerve stimulation. Pain may be contained to a discrete
area, as in an injury, or it can be more diffuse, as in
disorders like fibromyalgia. Pain is mediated by specific
nerve fibers that carry the pain impulses to the brain where
their conscious appreciation may be modified by many
Physical therapy: A branch of rehabilitative
health that uses specially designed exercises and equipment
to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities.
Physical therapists work with many types of patients, from
infants born with musculoskeletal birth defects, to adults
suffering from sciatica or the after- effects of injury, to
elderly post-stroke patients.
Plexus: 1. In medicine, a network or tangle
of lymphatic vessels, nerves, or veins. For example, the
brachial plexus is a network of nerves leading to the arm.
Posterior: The back or behind, as opposed to the
Propofol: a prescription sedative-hypnotic drug
(brand name Diprivan) that is administered intravenously.
Propofol is commonly used in the induction of general
anesthesia and can be used both for the induction and
maintenance of general anesthesia. When administration of
the drug is discontinued, it wears off rapidly, allowing the
patient to awaken within a short time. Like other anesthetic
agents, side effects of propofol can include respiratory
depression. Propofol should only be administered in
controlled settings in which ventilation support and
monitoring of cardiovascular function are available.
Range of motion: The range through which a joint
can be moved, usually its range of flexion and extension.
Due to an injury, the knee may for example lack 10 degrees
of full extension.
Recurrent: Back again. A recurrent fever is a
fever that has returned after an intermission: a
Rehabilitation: The process of restoration of
skills by a person who has had an illness or injury so as to
regain maximum self-sufficiency and function in a normal or
as near normal manner as possible. For example,
rehabilitation after a stroke may help the patient walk
again and speak clearly again.
Relaxant: Something that relaxes, relieves,
reduces tension. For example, a muscle relaxant is often
administered during abdominal surgery to relax the diaphragm
and keep it from moving during the surgery.
Rotator cuff: A group of four tendons that
stabilize the shoulder joint.
Scapula: The shoulder blade (or "wingbone"), the
familiar flat triangular bone at the back of the shoulder.
Shoulder: A structure made up of two main bones:
the scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus (the long bone
of the upper arm). The end of the scapula, called the
glenoid, is a socket into which the head of the humerus
fits, forming a flexible ball-and-socket joint. The scapula
is an unusually shaped bone. It extends up and around the
shoulder joint at the rear to create a roof called the
acromion and around the shoulder joint at the front to
constitute the coracoid process. The shoulder joint is
cushioned by cartilage that covers the face of the glenoid
socket and the head of the humerus. The joint is stabilized
by a ring of fibrous cartilage around the glenoid socket
that is called the labrum. Ligaments connect the bones of
the shoulder and tendons join these bones to surrounding
muscles. The biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle to the
shoulder and helps stabilize the joint. Four short muscles
that originate on the scapula pass around the shoulder where
their tendons fuse together to form the rotator cuff.
Shoulder blade: The familiar flat triangular bone
at the back of the shoulder. Known familiarly as the
wingbone or, medically, as the scapula.
Shoulder joint: The flexible ball-and-socket joint
formed by the junction of the humerus and the scapula. This
joint is cushioned by cartilage that covers the face of the
glenoid socket and head of the humerus. The joint is
stabilized by a ring of fibrous cartilage (the labrum)
around the glenoid socket. Ligaments connect the bones of
the shoulder, and tendons join these bones to surrounding
muscles. The biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle to the
shoulder and helps stabilize the joint. Four short muscles
that originate on the scapula pass around the shoulder,
where their tendons fuse together to form the rotator cuff.
Shoulder pain: Pain in the shoulder due to an
injury or disease. The design of the shoulder joint is such
that it sacrifices stability for mobility. As an extremely
mobile joint that plays a central role in the action of a
major extremity (the arm), the shoulder is at high risk for
injury. An injury can involve the ligaments, bursae, or
tendons surrounding the shoulder joint, the cartilage,
menisci (plural for meniscus), or bones of the joint. Pain
can also occur in the shoulder from diseases and conditions
that involve the shoulder joint, the soft tissues and bones
surrounding the shoulder, or the nerves that supply
sensation to the shoulder area.
Spasm: A brief, automatic jerking movement. A
muscle spasm can be quite painful, with the muscle clenching
tightly. A spasm of the coronary artery can cause angina.
Spasms in various types of tissue may be caused by stress,
medication, over-exercise, or other factors.
Subluxation: Partial dislocation of a joint. A
complete dislocation is a luxation.
Surgeon: A physician who treats disease, injury,
or deformity by operative or manual methods. A medical
doctor specialized in the removal of organs, masses and
tumors and in doing other procedures using a knife
(scalpel). The definition of a "surgeon" has begun to blur
in recent years as surgeons have begun to minimize the
cutting, employ new technologies that are "minimally
invasive," use scopes, etc.
Surgery: The word "surgery" has multiple meanings.
It is the branch of medicine concerned with diseases and
conditions which require or are amenable to operative
procedures. Surgery is the work done by a surgeon. By
analogy, the work of an editor wielding his pen as a scalpel
is s form of surgery. A surgery in England (and some other
countries) is a physician's or dentist's office.
Sweating: The act of secreting fluid from the skin
by the sweat (sudoriferous) glands. These are small tubular
glands situated within and under the skin (in the
subcutaneous tissue). They discharge by tiny openings in the
surface of the skin.
Syncope: Partial or complete loss of consciousness
with interruption of awareness of oneself and ones
surroundings. When the loss of consciousness is temporary
and there is spontaneous recovery, it is referred to as
syncope or, in nonmedical quarters, fainting. Syncope
accounts for one in every 30 visits to an emergency room. It
is pronounced sin-ko-pea.
Systemic: Affecting the entire body. A systemic
disease such as diabetes can affect the whole body. Systemic
chemotherapy employs drugs that travel through the
bloodstream and reach and affect cells all over the body.
Tear: A drop of the salty secretion of the
lacrimal glands which serves to moisten the conjunctiva and
Tendon: The tissue by which a muscle attaches to
bone. A tendon is somewhat flexible, but fibrous and tough.
When a tendon becomes inflamed, the condition is referred to
as tendinitis or tendonitis. Inflamed tendons are at risk
Therapy: The treatment of disease.
Traction: In medicine, a procedure for manually
pulling a part of the body to a beneficial effect.
Trauma: Any injury, whether physically or
emotionally inflicted. "Trauma" has both a medical and a
psychiatric definition. Medically, "trauma" refers to a
serious or critical bodily injury, wound, or shock. This
definition is often associated with trauma medicine
practiced in emergency rooms and represents a popular view
of the term. In psychiatry, "trauma" has assumed a different
meaning and refers to an experience that is emotionally
painful, distressful, or shocking, which often results in
lasting mental and physical effects.
Vagus nerve: A remarkable nerve that supplies
nerve fibers to the pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box),
trachea (windpipe), lungs, heart, esophagus, and the
intestinal tract as far as the transverse portion of the
colon. The vagus nerve also brings sensory information back
to the brain from the ear, tongue, pharynx, and larynx.
Vasovagal syncope: The temporary loss of
consciousness in a particular kind of situation (situational
syncope) due to a vasovagal reaction.
Vital: Necessary to maintain life. Breathing is a
X-ray: 1. High-energy radiation with waves
shorter than those of visible light. X-rays possess the
properties of penetrating most substances (to varying
extents), of acting on a photographic film or plate
(permitting radiography), and of causing a fluorescent
screen to give off light (permitting fluoroscopy). In low
doses X-rays are used for making images that help to
diagnose disease, and in high doses to treat
cancer. Formerly called a Roentgen ray. 2. An
image obtained by means of X-rays