Sunday, August 1, 2021

Common Prefixes, Roots and Suffixes in Medical Terminology

by | February 22, 2021 0

Clinical pharmacists have the responsibility of dispensing drugs to both the in-patient and out-patient services of their institution. Some have extended their professional responsibilities to making ward rounds with physicians, monitoring drug therapy for safety, efficacy and desired clinical outcomes and identifying possible drug interactions.

To perform these professional roles effectively, in addition to an understanding of pharmacology and biopharmaceutics, clinical pharmacists must be able to communicate effectively with other members of the healthcare team.

In this article, therefore, an attempt has been made to outline some medical terminologies by giving definitions for the prefixes and suffixes that form their root. These are by no means exhaustive.


Prefixes in medical terminology

A prefix appears at the beginning of a word and generally describes location and intensity. By learning to recognize a few of the more commonly used medical prefixes, you can figure out the meanings of terms that may not be immediately familiar to you. It is worthy to note that not all medical terms have prefixes.

The following is an alphabetical list of common medical prefixes, along with their meaning, and an English example.

A – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
a-, an- without, lack of anuria (lack of urine output)
ab- away from abnormal (a structure or process that is not normal)
ad- toward, near adrenal glands (two small triangular endocrine glands situated one upon the upper end of each kidney)
ambi- both sides ambidextrous (using both hands)
ante- before, forward antepartum (an event before labour starts in pregnancy)
anti- against Antidotes (a therapeutic substance used to counteract the toxic action(s) of a specific substance)
apo- off, away from apophysis (growth or protuberance)
auto- self autograft (a transplant made using parts of the person’s own body)

B – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefix Meaning Example (Definition)
bi- two, both bilateral (occurring on both sides of the body)

C – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
cata- downwards Catabolism (the process of breaking down complex chemicals into simple chemicals)
con- with, together congenital (disease or physical abnormality present from birth)

D – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
de- without depigmentation (without pigment)
diplo- double diplopia (double vision)
dys- painful, difficult, abnormal Dyspnoea (difficulty in breathing)

E – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
ec-, ecto out, outside ectoderm (the outer layer of an early embryo)
endo- within, inside endoscopy (an examination of the inside of the body using an endoscope)
epi- above epigastric (above the stomach)
eu- normal euthyroid (normal thyroid function)
ex- outwards exostosis (condition of outward, or projecting, bone)
extra- outside of extrapleural (outside the pleural cavity)

H – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
hemi- half hemiplegia (paralysis that is limited to one side of the body)
hetero- different heterograft (A transplant from one animal to another of a different species)
homo- same homoplasty (surgery to replace lost tissues by grafting similar tissues from another person)
hyper- excessive, too much, above hyperplasia (an abnormal increase in the number of cells in a tissue.)
hypo- deficient, below hypotension (low blood pressure), hypodermic (below the skin)

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I – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
in- inward, not inhalation (to breathe in), infertility (not fertile)
Infra- beneath infra-axillary (below the axilla)
inter- between intervertebral (between the vertebrae)
intra- within intramuscular (into the muscle)

J – Prefix used in medical terms

Prefix Meaning Example (Definition)
juxta- near juxta-articular (near a joint)

M – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
macro- large macroglossia (an abnormally large tongue)
mal- bad, abnormal malformation (abnormally formed)
mega- great, large megacolon (enlarged colon)
meta- change, beyond metaplasia (a change of one tissue to another), metastasis (the spreading of a malignant disease to distant parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system)
micro- small microtia (having small ears)
mono- one monochromatic (having only one colour)
morph(o)- shape morphology (study of the form and structure of
multi- many Multigravida (a pregnant woman who has had more than one pregnancy)

N– Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
neo- new neonatal (pertaining to the first month of life.)
nulli- none nullipara (a woman who has never borne a child)

O – Prefix used in medical terms

Prefix Meaning Example (Definition)
olig(o)- scanty, little oliguria (an abnormally low excretion of urine)

P – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
pan- all panacea (a medicine which is supposed to cure everything)
Par(a)- beside, abnormal


paranasal (beside the nose), paraesthesia (abnormal or an unexplained tingling sensation)
per- through percutaneous (through the skin)
peri- surrounding periosteum (membrane surrounding a bone)
pico- one-trillionth picornavirus (extremely small RNA virus)
poly- many, much polyuria (production of excessive amounts of urine)
post- after postpartum (after childbirth)
pre- before precancer (a growth or cell which is not malignant but which may become cancerous)
pseudo- false pseudocyesis (spurious or false pregnancy)

Q – Prefix used in medical terms

Prefix Meaning Example (Definition)
quadri- four quadriplegia (paralysis of the four limbs of the body)

R – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
re- again reinfection (infection of an area for another time after recovery, especially with the same microorganism)
retr(o)- backward, behind retrograde (going backwards or deteriorating), retroperitoneal (at the back of the peritoneum)

S – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
semi- Partial, half semicomatose (almost unconscious or half asleep, but capable of being woken up)
sub- under, less than subcutaneous (under the skin)
super- above supercilia (the eyebrow)
supra- above, upon suprarenal (above the kidneys
syn- with, together syndrome (a group of symptoms occurring together regularly, and thus constituting a disease to which some particular name is given)

T – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
tetra- four tetraplegia (paralysis of the body’s four limbs, also called quadriplegia.)
trans- through, across transdermal (entering through the skin), transurethral (across the urethra)

U – Prefixes used in medical terms

Prefixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
un- not unconscious (not conscious)
uni- one unilateral (affecting one side of the body only)

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Medical Root Words

The root of a word is the foundation of a medical term and provides the general meaning of the word. It can be a whole word or part of a word. Medical root words come from many different languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, and German) and find their way into English. Some commonly used medical root words in their combining form, their meaning, and examples are listed below.

A – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
abdomin(o)- abdomen abdominoscopy (an internal examination of the abdomen, usually with an endoscope)
acou- hearing acoustics (the science of sounds)
acr(o)- extremity, peak acrocyanosis (a blue coloration of the extremities, i.e. the fingers, toes, ears and nose, which is due to poor circulation)
aden(o)- gland adenocarcinoma (a malignant tumour of a gland)
adipo- fat adiposis (a state where too much fat is accumulated in the body)
andr(o)- male androsterone (one of the male sex hormones)
angi(o)- blood vessel angiosarcoma (a malignant tumour in a blood vessel)
ankyl crooked, fusion ankylosis (a condition in which the bones of a joint fuse together)
arteri(o)- arteries arteriopathy (a disease of an artery)
arthr(o)- joint arthroplasty (a surgical operation to repair or replace a joint)

B – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
bili bile biliuria (the presence of bile in the urine)
bi(o)- life biocide (a substance which kills living organisms)
blast- or -blast embryonic state blastocyst (an early stage in the development of an embryo)
blephar(o)- eyelid blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid)
brachi(o)- arm brachialis muscle (a muscle that causes the elbow to bend)
brady- slow bradypnoea (unusually slow breathing)

C – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
calc(i) heel calcaneus (the heel bone situated underneath the talus)
carcin(o)- cancer carcinogen (a substance which produces a carcinoma or cancer)
cardi(o)- heart cardiopathy (any kind of heart disease)
caud- tail caudal (toward the tail)
cephal(o)- head cephalalgia (pain in the head)
cerebr(o)- cerebrum cerebrospinal (referring to the brain and the spinal cord)
chem(o)- chemical chemotherapy (treatment with chemicals)
chol(e)- bile cholecystitis (acute or chronic inflammation of the gallbladder, causing severe abdominal pain)
chondr(o)- cartilage chondritis (inflammation of a cartilage)
col(i)(o)- colon colitis (inflammation of the colon)
cost(o)- rib costalgia (pain around the chest due to damage to a rib or to one of the intercostal nerves beneath the ribs)
cut- skin cutaneous (relating to the skin)
cyan(o)- blue cyanosis (a bluish coloration of the skin or mucous membranes due to too much deoxygenated haemoglobin in the blood)
cyst(i)(o)- bladder cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder, which makes someone pass water often and with a burning sensation)
cyt(o)- cell cytodiagnosis (diagnosis after examination of cells)

D – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
derm- or -derm skin dermatitis (inflammation of the skin)
dors(i)(o)- back dorsum (the back of any part of the body)

E – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
encephal(o)- brain encephaloma (a tumour of the brain)
enter(o)- intestine enterocolitis (inflammation of the colon and small intestine)
erythr(o)- red erythrocytes (a mature red blood cell)

F – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
fasci- bundle fasciae (bundles of muscle fibers)
febri- fever febrile (feverish or related to fever, as in febrile convulsions)
fil- threadlike filariasis (a tropical disease caused by parasitic threadworms in the lymph system, transmitted by mosquito bites)

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G – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
galact(o)- milk galactorrhoea (the excessive production of milk)
gastro- stomach gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
ger(o)- or geront(o)- aging gerontology (study of aging)
gloss(o)(a)- tongue glossitis (inflammation of the surface of the tongue)

H – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
haeme(a)(o)- or haemato- blood haematology (the scientific study of blood, its formation and its diseases)
hepat(o)- liver hepatitis (inflammation of the liver through disease or drugs)
hist(i)(o)- tissue histogenesis (the formation and development of tissue from the embryological germ layer)
hydro- water hydrorrhoea (a discharge of watery fluid)
hyster(o)- uterus hysterotomy (a surgical incision into the uterus, as in caesarean section or for some types of abortion)

I – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
ile(o)- ileum ileostomy (a surgical operation to make an opening between the ileum and the abdominal wall to act as an artificial opening for excretion of faeces)
ischi(o)- hip ischiopubic (pertaining to the ischium and pubes)

J – Medical Root Words

Root Meaning Example (Definition)
jejun(o)- jejunum jejunectomy (a surgical operation to cut into the jejunum)

K– Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
kerat(o)- horny tissue, cornea keratoma (a hard-thickened growth due to hypertrophy of the horny zone of the skin)
kine(t)(o)- movement kinesiology (the study of human movements, particularly with

regard to their use in treatment)

L – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
labio- lips, labia labioplasty (a surgical operation to repair damaged or deformed lips)
lact(o)- milk lactose (a type of sugar found in milk)
laryng(o)- larynx laryngology (the study of diseases of the larynx, throat and vocal cords)
leuk(o)- white leukocytes (a white blood cell which contains a nucleus but

has no haemoglobin)

lip(o)- fat lipoma (a benign tumour formed of fatty tissue)
lith(o)- stone litholapaxy (the evacuation of pieces of a stone in the bladder after crushing it with a lithotrite)

M – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
mamm(o)- breast mammoplasty (plastic surgery to alter the shape or size of the breasts)
mast(o)- breast mastectomy (the surgical removal of a breast)
melan(o)- black melanoma (a tumour formed of dark pigmented cells)
meno- menses menorrhagia (very heavy bleeding during menstruation)
my(o)- muscle myocele (a condition in which a muscle pushes through a gap in the surrounding membrane)
myc(o)- fungus mycosis (any disease caused by a fungus, e.g. athlete’s foot)
myel(o)- bone marrow, spinal cord myelocyte (a cell in bone marrow which develops into a granulocyte)
myx mucus myxoma (a benign tumour of mucous tissue, usually found in subcutaneous tissue of the limbs and neck)

N– Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
nas(o)- nose nasosinusitis (a condition in which the nose and sinuses swell up)
nephr(o)- kidney nephrolithiasis (a condition in which stones form in the kidney)
neur(o)- nerve or nervous system neurohormone (a hormone produced in some nerve cells and secreted from the nerve endings)

O – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
ocul(o)- eye oculoplethysmography (measurement of the pressure

inside the eyeball)

onc(o)- tumor (cancerous) oncogene (a part of the genetic system which causes malignant tumours to develop)
ophthalm(o)- eye ophthalmoplegia (paralysis of the muscles of the eye)
orchi(o)- testes orchitis (inflammation of the testes, characterised by hypertrophy, pain and a sensation of weight)
oro mouth oropharynx (a part of the pharynx below the soft palate at the back of the mouth)
oste(o)- bone osteitis (inflammation of a bone due to injury or infection)
ot(o)- ear otorrhoea (the discharge of pus from the ear)

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P – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
paed- or ped(o)- child paediatrics (the study of children, their development and diseases.)
path(o)- disease pathogen (microorganism which causes a disease)
pharmaco drugs pharmacokinetics (the study of how the body reacts to drugs over a period of time)
pharyng(o)- pharynx pharyngitis (sore throat)
phleb(o)- vein phlebolith (a stone which forms in a vein as a result of an old thrombus becoming calcified)
phot(o)- light photopsia (a condition of the eye in which someone sees flashes of light)
plasm(o)- liquid part of blood plasminogen (a substance in blood plasma which becomes activated and forms plasmin)
pleur(o)- pleura, rib, side pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura)
pneum(o)- lung pneumonia (inflammation of a lung, where the tiny alveoli of the lung become filled with fluid)
pod(o)- foot podiatry (the study of minor diseases and disorders of the feet)
proct(o)- anus or rectum proctoclysis (the introduction of a lot of fluid into the rectum slowly)
psych(o)- mind psychiatry (study and treatment of mental disorders)
pyel(o)- kidney pyelotomy (a surgical operation to make an opening in the pelvis of the kidney)
pyr(o)- burning or fever pyrogen (a substance which causes fever)

R – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
ren(o)- kidney renography (an examination of a kidney after injection of a radioactive substance, using a gamma camera)
rhin(o)- nose rhinoplasty (plastic surgery to correct the appearance of the nose)

S – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
sarc(o)- flesh sarcoma (a highly malignant tumour made of connective tissue cells)
scler(o)- hard scleroma (a patch of hard skin or hard mucous membrane)
soma- or somat(o)- body somatization (psychiatric condition expressed through physical symptoms)
sten(o)- narrow stenosis (a condition in which a passage becomes narrow)

T – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
tachy Rapid, fast tachyarrhythmia (a fast irregular heartbeat)
therm(o)- heat thermoanaesthesia (a condition in which someone cannot tell the difference between hot and cold)
thorac(o)- chest thoracotomy (a surgical operation to remove one or more ribs)
thromb(o)- clot thromboangiitis (a condition in which the blood vessels swell and develop blood clots along their walls)
trache(o)- trachea tracheobronchitis (inflammation of both the trachea and the bronchi)

U – Medical Root Words

Root Meaning Example (Definition)
ur(o)- urinary, urine urochesia (the passing of urine through the rectum, due to injury of the urinary system)

V – Medical Root Words

Roots Meanings Examples (Definitions)
vas(o)- Vessel, vas deferens vasopressor (a substance which increases blood pressure by narrowing the blood vessels), vasoligation (a surgical operation to tie the vasa deferentia to prevent infection entering the epididymis from the urinary system)
ven(i)(o)- vein venoclysis (the procedure of slowly introducing a saline or other solution into a vein)
vesic(o)- bladder vesicospinal (pertaining to the urinary bladder and spine)

Suffixes in medical terminology

Suffixes are attached at the end of words to change or add to the original meaning. In medical terminology, suffixes usually signify a medical condition, surgical procedure, diagnostic term, test information, disease, or part of speech. Some suffixes also signify medical practice or practitioners.

The following is an alphabetical list of common suffixes used in medical terminologies, along with their meaning, and examples (definitions).

A – Suffix used in medical terms

Suffix Meaning Example (Definition)
-algia pain neuralgia (a spasm of pain which runs along a nerve)

C – Suffix used in medical terms

Suffix Meaning Example (Definition)
-cyte cell leucocyte (white blood cell)

E – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-ectasis dilation bronchiectasis (dilated bronchi)
-ectomy surgical removal splenectomy (a surgical operation to remove the spleen)
-oedema (also a standalone word) excessive fluid angioedema (fluid buildup that causes swelling under the skin)
-emesis vomiting hematemesis (vomiting of blood)

I – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-itis inflammation colitis (inflammation of the colon)
-ism state of hypothyroidism (state of low thyroid)

L – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-logist one who studies cardiologist (a doctor who specialises in the study of the heart)
-lys(i)(o) breakdown cytolysis (the breaking down of cells)

O – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-oma tumour glioma (any tumour of the glial tissue in the brain or spinal cord)
-osis condition fibrosis (the process of replacing damaged tissue by scar tissue)

P – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-pathy disease myopathy (muscle disease)
-plasia growth hypoplasia (a lack of development or incorrect formation of a body tissue or an organ)
-plasty surgical repair angioplasty (plastic surgery to repair a blood vessel, e.g. a narrowed coronary artery)
-plegia paralysis hemiplegia (severe paralysis affecting one side of the body due to damage of the central nervous system)
-pnoea breathing orthopnoea (a condition in which a person has great difficulty in breathing while lying down)
-poiesis production erythropoiesis (the formation of red blood cells in red bone marrow)
-praxia movement apraxia (a condition in which someone is unable to make proper movements)

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R – Suffix used in medical terms

Suffix Meaning Example (Definition)
-rrhoea fluid discharge diarrhoea (a condition in which someone frequently passes liquid faeces)

S – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-scope observe endoscope (tool for observing the interior of body organs)
-stomy opening duodenostomy (a permanent opening made between the duodenum and the abdominal wall)

T – Suffixes used in medical terms

Suffixes Meanings Examples (Definitions)
-taxis movement ataxia (a failure of the brain to control movements)
-tomy incision canaliculotomy (a surgical operation to open up a little canal)
-tripsy crushing lithotripsy (the process of breaking up kidney or gall bladder stones into small fragments that the body can eliminate them unaided)
-trophy growth hypertrophy (an increase in the number or size of cells in a tissue)


1. Aguwa, C. (2012). Therapeutic Basis of Clinical Pharmacy In the Tropics, (4th ed.). Nigeria: Snaap Press Ltd.

2. Fremgen, B. and Frucht, S. (2016). Medical Terminology: A Living Language, (6th ed.). USA: Pearson Education, Inc.

3. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data (2009). Medical Terminology Made Incredibly Easy!, (3rd ed.). USA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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