2.2 Suffixes for Symptoms

Suffixes are often used when describing signs and symptoms that individuals are experiencing. There is much variation in how they are used, and examples will be provided to illustrate how suffixes are applied to medical terms to explain signs and symptoms. As stated in the introduction to this chapter, some of the suffixes were introduced in Chapter 1 but will be explained in further detail here.


Table 2.1. Suffixes

-algia condition of pain, pain neuralgia
-cele hernia, protrusion, swelling hydrocele
pain scale with definitions from 1-10
Fig. 2.1
wrist with pain
Fig. 2.2










Key Concept

Pain is a common symptom in healthcare settings. There are various ways to assess pain, and the chart in Fig. 2.1 is an example of one way. There are a number of places in and on the body where a person can experience pain, and pain can also vary greatly in severity (Fig. 2.2). Table 2.2 below provides some examples of the use of the suffix -algia, which means “pain” or “condition of pain.” It lists the more common usages; there are of course more, and on specialty units in a hospital, there are likely others that will be commonly heard as well.


        Table 2.2. Examples of -algia

arthralgia condition of pain in the joint (Fig. 2.2)
brachialgia condition of pain in the arm
cephalgia condition of pain in the head (headache)
cervicalgia condition of pain in the neck
dentalgia condition of pain in the tooth
fibromyalgia condition of pain in the fibrous tissue and muscle
hepatalgia condition of pain in the liver
mammalgia condition of pain in the breast
myalgia condition of pain in the muscle
neuralgia condition of pain in the nerve
otalgia condition of pain in the ear
rhinalgia condition of pain in the nose
spondylalgia condition of pain in the spine
thoracalgia condition of pain in the thorax


Table 2.3. Suffixes

-dipsia thirst polydipsia
-emesis vomiting hematemesis
person drinking
Fig. 2.3
person vomiting (emesis)
Fig. 2.4










Key Concept

The medical term polydipsia, which means “much thirst,” comes from the prefix poly- (“much” or “many”) and the suffix -dipsia (“thirst”). A number of medical conditions can cause polydipsia (Fig. 2.3), including diabetes mellitus.

Nausea and vomiting (Fig. 2.4) are common symptoms for patients in a hospital and can result from many causes. As such, it would not be uncommon to see medical terms with the suffix -emesis (“vomiting”) and have it combined with other terms, as with -algia in Table 2.2 above; for example, the term hematemesis means there is blood in the vomit.


Table 2.4. Suffixes

-emia blood condition ischemia
-ia condition pneumonia
-itis inflammation appendicitis


heart having a heart attack
Fig. 2.5
ear that is inflamed
Fig. 2.6










Key Concept

Fig. 2.5 shows a heart during a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack. When this occurs, blood is held back from part of the heart. The medical term for this is ischemia, meaning “blood condition of holding back,” which has the suffix -emia (“blood condition”) and the combining form isch/o (“to hold back”). When ischemia occurs and is not corrected right away, it results in necrosis. In this case, it would be the death of cardiac muscle.

Inflammation is also a common symptom because many parts of the human body can become inflamed. Fig. 2.6 shows an ear that has become inflamed; the medical term for this is otitis (“inflammation of the ear”). Table 2.5 below provides some examples of medical terms with -itis (“inflammation”), but there are many more that you may hear in a medical setting.


                         Table 2.5. Examples of -itis

adenoiditis inflammation of the adenoids
appendicitis inflammation of the appendix
bronchitis inflammation of the bronchi
bursitis inflammation of the bursae
cholecystitis inflammation of the gallbladder
cystitis inflammation of the urinary bladder
dermatitis inflammation of the skin
encephalitis inflammation of the brain
enteritis inflammation of the intestines
esophagitis inflammation of the esophagus
gastroenteritis inflammation of the stomach and intestines
hepatitis inflammation of the liver
nephritis inflammation of the kidney
neuritis inflammation of the nerve
otitis inflammation of the ear (Fig. 2.6)
thrombophlebitis inflammation with clots in the vein


Table 2.6. Suffixes

-lapse to fall, slide prolapse
-megaly  enlargement cardiomegaly


prolapse of the uterus
Fig. 2.7
normal and enlarged liver
Fig. 2.8










Key Concept

Fig 2.7 is an image of a uterine prolapse. Prolapses can occur in other parts of the body as well, and the literal meaning of prolapse is “to slide or fall forward,” from the suffix -lapse (“to fall or slide”) and the prefix pro- (“before” or “forward”). When a prolapse occurs, it can be corrected surgically and with physiotherapy treatment. Uterine prolapses are more common with increased age and a history of pregnancy.

Various organs in the body can become enlarged owing to different pathologies and conditions. Cardiomegaly is enlargement of the heart, and Fig. 2.8 shows enlargement of the liver, which is referred to as hepatomegaly. Both types of enlargements often result from chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure (CHF) or hepatitis.


Table 2.7. Suffixes

-oma  tumour, mass hematoma
-osis  condition, abnormal condition psychosis


Hematomas is a bruise
Fig. 2.9
normal vision and person with glaucoma
Fig. 2.10








Key Concept

Hematomas, shown in Fig. 2.9, are very common in the general population and among patients in hospitals or clinics. Hematomas are often referred to as bruises, and the term literally mean “mass of blood,” from the suffix -oma (“mass” or “tumour”) and the combining form hemat/o (“blood”).

Another type of -oma is glaucoma, which is medical condition that causes increased pressure within the eye and results in narrowed vision, as seen in Fig. 2.10. Glaucoma literally means “mass that is grey,” from the suffix -oma and the combining form glauc/o (“grey” or “opaque”) (Global RPH, 2021). This refers to the grey mass in the field of vision that patients experience and that can be seen in the figure above.


Table 2.8. Suffixes

-penia deficiency pancytopenia
-phagia eating dysphagia
-phasia speech aphasia
nurse speaking to a patient
Fig. 2.11

Key Concepts

Speaking and eating are, for most of us, a part of everyday life. Difficulty or the inability to eat or speak can be extremely confusing and frustrating for those who are affected. The medical terms that describe these conditions are dysphagia (“difficulty eating”) and dysphasia (“difficulty speaking).” Even more detrimental conditions would be aphagia and aphasia; with the prefix a- (“no”), the terms mean “no eating” and “no speaking.”


Table 2.9. Suffixes

-pathy disease condition cardiomyopathy
-pepsia digestion dyspepsia 
-phobia aversion, abnormal fear arachnophobia 
-plegia paralysis paraplegia


shows various forms of cardiomyopathy
Fig. 2.12


homeopathy set
Fig. 2.13









Key Concept

The suffix -pathy (“disease condition”) is very common in medical settings. Fig. 2.12 shows various forms of cardiomyopathy. This condition can result from an acute condition, such as a heart attack, or a more chronic condition, such as congestive heart failure. Acute conditions come on quickly, whereas chronic ones can last a lifetime.

Another example of the use of the suffix -pathy would be the term homeopathy. Fig. 2.13 shows a homeopathy set that was once used to treat ailments. This term has the combining form home/o, which means “similar,” “same,” or “alike.” Homeopathy originated in the 18th century from the idea that “like cures like,” meaning that a small concentration of a toxin could be used to treat the symptoms that it would cause when taken in larger doses (Wanjek, 2013); for example, using the active ingredient in poison ivy to treat a rash (Wanjek, 2013). This thinking resulted in the development of the first vaccines, which use small doses of viruses to treat or prevent illness (Wanjek, 2013).

Table 2.10 below provides some examples of medical terms with -pathy, but there are many more used in medical settings.


                         Table 2.10. Examples of -pathy

adenopathy disease condition of the glands
adrenopathy disease condition of the adrenal gland
arthropathy disease condition of the joint
cardiopathy disease condition of the heart
cardiomyopathy disease condition of the heart and muscle
encephalopathy disease condition of the brain
hepatopathy disease condition of the liver
lymphadenopathy disease condition of the lymph nodes
myopathy disease condition of the muscle
neuropathy disease condition of the nerve
psychopathy disease condition of the mind
retinopathy disease condition of the retina


Table 2.11. Suffixes

-rrhea flow, discharge menorrhea
-rrhage excessive discharge of blood hemorrhage
-rrhagia excessive discharge of blood menorrhagia


examples of hemorrhages in the brain
Fig. 2.14

Key Concept

Although very similar, the three suffixes in Table 2.11 are used in different ways. It is important to note the manner in which the suffixes are used and when one is used over the other. For example, look at the terms dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, menorrhagia, menorrhea, and hemorrhage. The first four have to do with menstrual flow, the first term meaning “painful,” then “lack of,” “excessive,” and, finally, “normal menstrual flow.” The last term means “excessive discharge of blood,” which could be from anywhere in the body. Fig. 2.14 shows some examples of hemorrhages in the brain, and many of the prefixes you see in the terms used will be discussed further in Chapter 3.


Table 2.12. Suffixes

-sclerosis hardening arteriosclerosis 
-uria condition of urine glycosuria 
Fig. 2.15
Fig. 2.16









Key Concept

Arteri/o, meaning “artery,” can be seen in the term arteriosclerosis, which literally means “hardening of an artery.” Ather/o means “plaque” and is part of the term atherosclerosis, a condition that results from an accumulation of plaque within an artery and causes hardening of the artery. As such, it is a type of arteriosclerosis that is specifically caused by plaque build-up (Fig. 2.15).

You were introduced to the term hematuria (Fig. 2.16) in Chapter 1, and it means “a condition of urine(-uria) with blood (hemat-)” (Ansorge, 2022). A urinalysis examines various factors in urine, including blood, sugar, protein, and white blood cells. The results of a urinalysis are a good indicator of how a person’s kidneys are functioning. Kidneys play a key role in the urinary system.





Unless otherwise indicated, material on this page has been adapted from the following resource:

Carter, K., & Rutherford, M. (2020). Building a medical terminology foundation. eCampus Ontario. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/medicalterminology/ licensed under CC BY 4.0



Ansorge, R. (2022). Blood in urine (hematuria). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/blood-in-urine-causes

Global RPH. (2021). Color medical terms – Prefixes and terms for color. https://globalrph.com/med-terms-prefixes-and-combining-forms-color-medical-terms/#:~:text=red%20blood%20cell)-,glauc%2Fo,gleam%20of%20the%20affected%20eye)

Wanjek, C. (May 13, 2013). What is homeopathy? Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/31977-homeopathy.html


Image Credits (images are listed in order of appearance)

Pain scale with words by MissLunaRose12, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wrist pain by Injurymap, CC BY-SA 4.0

Drink up to stay healthy. Health is Wealth by Victorbraimoh, CC BY-SA 4.0

Symptoms-vomiting by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public domain

Heart attack anatomy by ravindra gandhi, CC BY-SA 2.0

Erysipel2a by Klaus D. Peter, CC BY 3.0 DE

Uterine Prolapse by BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA 4.0

Depiction of an enlarged liver by myUpchar, CC BY-SA 4.0

Plateletpheresis hematoma 2016 by MajorB, CC0 1.0

Depiction of vision for a Glaucoma patient by myUpchar, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nurse aide with patient at La Junta Hospital by Mennonite Church USA Archives, Public domain

Major categories of cardiomyopathy by Npatchett, CC BY-SA 4.0

HomeopathicSetBedfordMuseum by Simon Speed, Public domain

An illustration of the different types of brain hemorrhage by myUpchar, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dislipidemias3 by TLECOATL ZYANYA, CC BY-SA 4.0

HematuriaGross by James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 4.0



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The Language of Medical Terminology Copyright © 2022 by Lisa Sturdy and Susanne Erickson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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