Common Medical Terms and Their Explanations

Allergy: Abnormal reaction to otherwise harmless substances which can cause rashes, sneezing, watery eyes, asthma or swelling of lips and eyes. Commonly caused by inhaled grass pollen, but sometimes related to home dust, foods, or almost anything else.

Angina: Very severe ‘crushing’ pain in the chest, caused by poor blood supply to the heart muscle. Usually comes on with exercise, and is a warning to take things more easily.

Antenatal: Literally ‘before birth’. Usually implies check-ups and relaxation courses for a pregnant woman.

Antibiotic: Substance which attacks bacteria. It has no effect against disease caused by viruses.

Antibody: Substance produced by the body in response to an infection, or to the presence of a foreign substance in the blood. Antibodies help the body inactivate bacteria, viruses, or substances capable of causing damage.

Antihistamine: Drug which reduces the effects of an allergy. It frequently causes tiredness as a side-effect and for this reason is sometimes also used as a sedative.

Bacteria: Micro-organisms which are frequently capable of causing infectious diseases. Bacteria are attacked by antibiotics.

Breech Delivery: Birth in which the baby emerges bottom-first, instead of headfirst as is normal.

Bronchi: Thick-walled tubes which carry air to and from the lungs during breathing. Bronchitis: Inflammation of the lining of the bronchi, causing breathlessness and coughing. Very common in Britain, and made much worse by smoking. Can lead to more serious disease if unchecked.

Caries: Tooth decay. Cataract: Cloudiness in the normally clear lens of the eye, obscuring vision. Generally affecting the elderly, but sometimes appearing after eye injury such as chemical burns. Can be removed surgically, spectacles or contact lenses being worn to replace the lens.

Cystic Fibrosis: Hereditary disease affecting various glands. Can lead to clogging of the lungs and breathing difficulties. Digestive disorders are also common. Often requires continuous antibiotic treatment to prevent lung infection.

Cystitis: Painful inflammation of the bladder, most common in women. Frequently follows sexual intercourse. Needs medical treatment, and can recur.

Dehydration: Shortage of water in the body, often following persistent vomiting or diarrhoea. Quickly replaced by drinking large amounts. Especially dangerous in infants.

Diabetes: Disease caused by failure of the body to produce sufficient insulin. This in turn allows levels of sugar in the blood to rise to dangerous levels. Can be treated with drugs, or by injection of insulin.

DPT: Abbreviation for triple vaccine, against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus.

Enuresis: Bed-wetting; inability to control the flow of urine during sleep, in persons over five years of age.

Febrile Convulsions: A fit caused by the effect on the brain of a high fever.

Gall Bladder: Small sac in which bile produced by the liver is stored temporarily. Bile is released into the intestine, stimulated by the passage of food, where it helps to digest fats. The gall bladder sometimes becomes blocked or inflamed.

Haemoglobin: Red pigment in the blood, which transports oxygen around the body. Low levels of haemoglobin can cause anaemia. Heart Murmur: An unusual sound in the heart, which can be heard with a stethoscope. It does not necessarily mean that there is any heart problem.

Hyperactivity: State of constant physical activity in young children.

Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure. Can cause damage to the heart and in later life if allowed to remain untreated.

Immunization: Protection against a disease by giving harmless, weakened or dead germs or viruses by mouth, skin scratch or injection. Their presence stimulates the body to produce antibodies.

Jaundice: Yellow discolouration caused by the inability of the liver to break down old red blood cells. Usually follows a liver infection or disorder.

Meningitis: Inflammation of the layer of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Can cause very serious illness, especially in young children.

Neonate: New-born baby, up to one month old.

Obesity: Gross overweight. Obese people put themselves at risk due to heart and circulatory problems, and may damage joints.

Pertussis: Whooping cough. Placenta: Organ through which the unborn child obtains its nourishment. The placenta is attached to the womb, and is expelled shortly after the birth of the child. It is sometimes referred to as the afterbirth.

Prophylactic: Measure to prevent disease — e.g. hygiene, immunization.

Prostate Gland: Gland close to the bladder, in males. With increasing age it may swell and impede the flow of urine.

Retina: The layer of tissue at the back of the eye containing light-sensitive cells.

Rickets: Bone disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D or calcium in the diet. Can cause marked bending of the shin bones, as well as other deformities in children.

Roughage (or dietary fibre): Material in the diet which will be incompletely digested, and therefore produces soft, bulky stools. Many modern foods are over-refined to remove roughage, and constipation and disorders can result. Vegetables are a good source of roughage, as is bran.

Rubella: German measles.

Scabies: Skin disease caused by invasion of microscopic burrowing mites. Very infectious, and needs medical attention. Usually treated with special creams.

Scarlet Fever: Now fortunately rare, scarlet fever results from reaction to poisons produced by a particular throat infection, causing a rash appearing first on the face, neck, and upper chest. Well controlled by antibiotics.

Stroke: Damage caused by interruption of the blood supply to the brain, due to a blockage or ruptured blood vessel. Severe strokes cause paralysis, complete or partial, and often affect speech. There is usually some degree of recovery.

Thrombosis: Blockage of a blood vessel by a blood clot (thrombus). Can be dangerous if the clot forms in the brain (stroke) or heart [heart attack).

Trachea: The wind pipe, a tough armoured tube leading to the bronchi and the lungs.

Ulcerative Colitis. Painful and severe illness in which the lower part of the bowel becomes ulcerated, causing continuous diarrhoea.

Umbilical Cord: The cord connecting the unborn baby to the placenta, supplying nourishment to the baby and removing waste material.

Ventilator: Machine used to help the breathing of a severely ill person.

Weaning: Gradual transfer of babies from milk to a solid diet.