105 Key Medical Terms & Abbreviations To Know

stethoscope laying on dictionary page open to the word medical

It is impossible to begin certain careers in healthcare without a strong understanding of medical terms.

Accurate use of basic medical terminology makes all the difference when it comes to patient care, medical coding, and connecting medical providers across specialties. In fact, the medical terminology list you are about to review will contribute to the foundation of your future in healthcare.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the medical abbreviations and terms below, and learn about the next step to advancing your career from home.

Important Medical Terms

Improving Your Knowledge of Medical Abbreviations and Terms

Important Medical Terms

These key terms and medical abbreviations were compiled from a variety of sources, including leading medical institutions and dictionaries.

  1. Abdominal: Relating to the abdomen
  2. Abrasion: Damage from a scrape
  3. Abscess: A swollen area within tissue containing pus
  4. Acute: Severe or intense
  5. Adhesion: Scar tissue that joins two areas of the body
  6. ADR: Abbreviation for adverse drug reaction
  7. Amniocentesis: The means for sampling amniotic fluid to screen for abnormalities in a fetus
  8. Anaphylaxis: A severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening
  9. Anemia: A condition in which the body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells
  10. Angina: A condition caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart that results in severe chest pain, often spreading within the upper body
  11. Angiography: A type of X-ray used to examine blood vessels
  12. Antigen: A toxin that when introduced to the body triggers an immune response, especially the production of antibodies
  13. Benign: Not harmful
  14. Biopsy: The process of examining tissue removed from the body to look for signs of disease
  15. Blood Group: Any of the types of human blood, each with its own characteristics
  16. BRCA: Abbreviation for breast cancer; testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 can be done to detect breast cancer susceptibility
  17. Cancer: Disease caused by abnormal cell division
  18. CBC: Abbreviation for complete blood count; a blood test
  19. Cholesterol: A fat-like substance naturally produced by the liver and absorbed from food; required in healthy amounts for proper bodily functions
  20. Chronic: Persisting for a long period of time
  21. Contusion: A bruise; the result of ruptured capillaries
  22. Coronary: Major blood vessels surrounding the heart
  23. Defibrillator: A device used to correct life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias
  24. Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2): A disease in which the body is unable to produce or respond to insulin. Type 1 typically shows up earlier in life and is believed to be an autoimmune reaction. Type 2 develops over years and is related to lifestyle factors, such as being overweight.
  25. Diastolic Blood Pressure: Bottom number in a blood pressure reading; pressure during the resting phase between heartbeats
  26. Diathermy: A technique in which heat is created by high-frequency electric currents with the goal of relieving pain, getting rid of unhealthy tissue or stopping bleeding
  27. DNR: Abbreviation for do not resuscitate; a legal document that dictates whether life-saving measures can be performed on a patient
  28. DVT: Abbreviation for deep vein thrombosis; when a blood clot forms in at least one vein deep in the body
  29. EBCT: Abbreviation for electron-beam computed tomography; a test for calcium build up in the heart
  30. ECG or EKG: Both abbreviations for electrocardiogram; a recording of the heart’s rhythm used to monitor cardiovascular health and detect issues
  31. Embolism: A clot of blood or air bubble that obstructs an artery
  32. Enzyme: A protein that accelerates chemical reactions in the body
  33. Epidermis: The outermost layer of skin
  34. False Negative: When a test incorrectly indicates that a particular condition is absent, when it is in fact present
  35. Flavonoids: Chemical compounds often found in plants, fruits, vegetables, and leaves; found to have antiviral, anti inflammatory, and anticancer properties
  36. FRAX Tool: Abbreviation for fracture risk assessment tool; used to measure bone fracture risk
  37. FX: Abbreviation for fracture
  38. GAD: Abbreviation for generalized anxiety disorder
  39. Galactagogue: A food or drug that increases the flow of a mother’s milk
  40. Gangrene: Decomposition of tissue in a contained area of the body caused by either obstructed circulation or a bacterial infection
  41. Gastric: Pertaining to the stomach
  42. HAART (or ART): Abbreviations for highly active antiretroviral therapy; meaning a combination of drugs are used as treatment
  43. HDL: Abbreviation for high-density lipoprotein; commonly known as “good” cholesterol
  44. Heart Attack: A medical emergency when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to the heart is blocked
  45. Hemiplegia: Paralysis of one side of the body
  46. HRT: Abbreviation for hormone replacement therapy
  47. Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure; when the pressure of blood against artery walls is elevated
  48. Hypotension: Also known as low blood pressure; a sudden drop in blood pressure often leads to light-headedness and could be a sign of an underlying condition
  49. Hypoxia: Deficiency of oxygen at the tissue level
  50. IBD: Abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease
  51. Immunotherapy: Using substances that stimulate a natural immune response to prevent or treat disease
  52. Incontinence: The inability to control urination or defecation
  53. Inpatient: A patient who stays at the hospital for the entirety of treatment
  54. Intravenous: Within a vein
  55. IVF: Abbreviation for in vitro fertilization; an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body, such as in a laboratory setting
  56. Jaundice: A medical condition that causes the skin and eyes to yellow as a result of an obstructed bile duct or liver disease
  57. Joint: The place where two two bones are fitted together
  58. Keratin: The main fibrous protein that makes up hair
  59. Ketamine: A synthetic compound used as an anesthetic
  60. LDL: Abbreviation for low-density lipoprotein; commonly known as “bad” cholesterol
  61. Lumbar: Referring to the lower back
  62. Lumbosacral: Referring to the lumbar and sacral regions of the back
  63. Lymph Node: Small structures throughout the body containing cells that work to fight illnesses by filtering foreign substances
  64. Malignant: To become progressively worse; commonly use in the context of cancer
  65. MRI: Abbreviation for magnetic resonance imaging; a medical imaging technique
  66. Myocardial infarction: Also known as a heart attack
  67. Neonate: An infant younger than four weeks old
  68. NO: Abbreviation for nitric oxide; a compound used to widen blood vessels and counteract high blood pressure
  69. NSAID: Abbreviation for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; used to reduce swelling and pain
  70. Occipital lobe: Area in the back of the brain responsible for visual processing
  71. Occlusion: Referring to a partial or complete blockage
  72. Opiate: A substance derived from opium
  73. Opioid: A compound resembling opium in its addictiveness and effect
  74. Otitis: Inflammation of the ear
  75. Outpatient: When care is given without admission to a hospital or healthcare facility
  76. Palliative care: A means of mitigating symptoms in the interest of quality of life
  77. Pituitary gland: Located at the base of the brain; responsible for regulating the thyroid and other endocrine system glands
  78. Prognosis: The expected outcome of a disease or illness
  79. Quadriplegia: Paralysis of all limbs
  80. Radiograph: Alternate name for an X-ray
  81. Radial Tunnel Syndrome: A condition in which the radial nerve is compressed at the elbow, causing pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand and arm
  82. Remission: The disappearance of symptoms of a disease; can be temporary or permanent
  83. Retroperitoneal: The membrane that lines the abdominal cavity
  84. SAD: Abbreviation for seasonal affective disorder; depression brought on by lack of sunlight exposure
  85. Sepsis: A serious reaction to infection within the body; typically an extreme response
  86. Symptom: An indication of something, especially disease or some other physical disturbance
  87. Syndrome: A group of symptoms that occur simultaneously
  88. Systolic blood pressure: Top number in a blood pressure reading; a measure of the pressure blood exerts against arterial walls when the heart contracts
  89. Thoracic: Regarding the chest
  90. Thrombophilia: A disorder that makes blood more likely to clot
  91. Thrombosis: Formation of a blood clot
  92. TSH: Abbreviation for thyroid-stimulating hormone; secreted by the pituitary gland that simulates actions of the thyroid
  93. Ulcer: Breakage of the skin or other surface that leads to inflammation or infection
  94. Ultrasound: Noninvasive imaging method using high-frequency sound waves
  95. Urinalysis: Analysis of urine
  96. Varicella: The technical name of the viral infection chicken pox
  97. Vascular: Relating to blood vessels
  98. Vena cava: A large vein carrying deoxygenated blood into the heart
  99. Wernicke’s area: Area of the brain responsible for speech
  100. White blood cells: Part of the immune system that protects the body from infection
  101. Xeroderma: Any disease involving extreme skin dryness
  102. Xerostomia: Under-productive salivary glands in the mouth
  103. X-ray: An image of the internal structure of the body by using an electromagnetic wave of high energy
  104. YAG capsulotomy: A technique used to correct blurred vision
  105. Zoonotic: An infectious disease that is transmissible from animals to humans


Taking a medical terminology course is a great first step to equip you with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful.

Why You Need a Medical Terminology Course

Improving Your Knowledge of Medical Abbreviations and Terms

Become a master of medical terms from home by taking advantage of the University of San Diego’s online medical terminology course. This self-paced offering is designed with current and prospective healthcare workers in mind, and includes updated lecture content, assignments, and access to the DavisPlus learning lab.

Upon completion, you will be able to:

  • Classify and define medical terms
  • Interpret diagnostic, laboratory, and medical abbreviations
  • Construct medical terms using root words, combining forms, prefixes, and suffixes

The course is also ideal for students who need medical terminology credit as a prerequisite for nursing and medical-specific programs.

Curriculum covered in this article

3 Units
Online Self-Paced
2 Units
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2 Units
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1 Units
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