3.3 Prefixes for Diagnostic Procedures and Symptoms


Prefixes are often used for terms related to diagnostic tests and to symptoms that patients might be experiencing. Examples will be provided that illustrate the manner in which prefixes are used for such terms. Some of these prefixes were introduced in the first chapter, but their use will be explained in further detail here.

 

Table 3.11. Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
a-, an- no, not, without
ana- up, apart
urinalysis
Fig. 3.16

Key Concept

The term analysis literally means “to separate” (-lysis) “apart” (ana-).” Fig. 3.16 is an image of a urine specimen ready for analysis, a procedure called urinalysis. The urine is closely analyzed for specific contents such as sugar, protein, bacteria, and blood (Mayo Clinic, 2022b). The information from the analysis is then used to monitor a person’s overall health and assist with diagnosing certain diseases or infections such as diabetes, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

In health care, pretty much any type of specimen can be analyzed to assist with the diagnosis of a medical condition, disease, or infection. For example, a semen specimen can be analyzed to look at the size, motility, and amount of sperm (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Other bodily fluids can be analyzed as well, including sputum, wound drainage, and stool.

 

Table 3.12. Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
ante- before, forward
brady- slow

 

pulse oximeter
Fig. 3.17
Key Concept

As discussed previously, the term antepartum, meaning “before” (ante-) “birth” (-partum), is the period of time before a women delivers their baby. In some hospitals, there is an antepartum unit in which mothers stay if they are having complications with their pregnancy. The time after a women gives birth is called postpartum, meaning “after” (post-) “birth” (-partum). Once again, some hospitals will have a postpartum unit where patients will stay for as little as a day or much longer depending on how their birthing experience went.

Bradycardia, meaning “condition” (-ia) of a “slow” (brady-) “heart” (cardi/o), refers to a heart beating more slowly than normal (Mayo Clinic, 2022a). This can occur for several reasons, including damage to the heart tissue, medications, birth defect, and thyroid disorders. Fig. 3.17 is an image of a pulse oximeter, a device that measures heart rate and oxygen level.

Bradypnea meaning “breathing” (-pnea) “slowly” (brady-). This is a condition in which a person breathes at a slower than normal rate (Smith, 2020). Sleep apnea, which was discussed in a previous chapter, is a condition in which a person may stop breathing (apnea) in addition to breathing more slowly than normal (bradypnea) and therefore not get enough oxygen. Bradypnea can also occur with a drug overdose or in carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

 

Table 3.13. Prefixes

Prefix MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
dys- painful, difficult, abnormal

 

Key Concept

The prefix dys-, which means “painful, difficult or abnormal,” is used in a number of medical terms, usually relating to a symptom that a patient might be experiencing. Table 3.14 below lists some of the more common terms that use this prefix. There are, of course, more, and on specialty units in a hospital, there are likely others that will be commonly heard as well.

Dysuria, meaning “a urine condition” (-uria) that is “painful” (dys-), is often one of the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI). As mentioned above, a patient will likely have a urinalysis to help diagnose a UTI (Mayo Clinic, 2022c).

 

Table 3.14. Examples of dys-

MEDICAL TERM MEANING
dysentery condition of painful intestines
dyspepsia digestion that is painful
dysphagia difficulty swallowing
dysphasia difficulty with speech
dysplasia abnormal formation
dyspnea difficulty breathing
dysmenorrhea painful menstrual flow
dysuria painful urination

 

Table 3.15. Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
hyper- excessive, too much, above
hypo- deficient, too little, below

 

Key Concept

The prefixes hyper- and hypo- are used in many medical terms, and it is critical to use the correct prefix because they mean the exact opposite of one another. The list below demonstrates this concept:

  • hyperglycemia (blood sugar that is high)
  • hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is low)

 

  • hypertension (pressure that is high or high blood pressure)
  • hypotension (pressure that is low or low blood pressure)

 

  • hyperthyroidism (condition of high thyroid)
  • hypothyroidism (condition of low thyroid)

 

  • hyperkalemia (blood condition with high potassium)
  • hypokalemia (blood condition with low potassium)

 

 

Table 3.16. Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
mal- bad
meta- change, beyond
neo- new

 

image of a neoplasm
Fig. 3.18

Key Concept

Fig. 3.18 is an image of a neoplasm. This term has the prefix neo- (“new”) and the suffix -plasm (“formation”). A neoplasm occurs when cells reproduce more than they should. It can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and if the cancer spreads to another place, such as other tissues or organs, it is called metastasis, meaning “place” (-stasis) that has “changed” (meta-) (National Cancer Institute, 2022).

 

Table 3.17. Prefixes

PREFIX MEANING EXAMPLE OF USE IN MEDICAL TERMS
pre- before
post- after
tachy- fast

 

colonic polyp
Fig. 3.19

Key Concept

The prefix pre-, meaning “before,” is used in a number of medical terms; for example:

  • precancerous (“pertaining to before cancer”; for example, a precancerous colonic polyp, shown in Fig. 3.19)
  • prenatal (“pertaining to before birth”; for example, prenatal care)

The prefix tachy- (“fast”) is the opposite of the prefix brady- (“slow”). Tachycardia means a “condition” (-ia) of a “fast” (tachy-) “heart” (cardi/o) and can occur during exercise or can be a serious medical conditions such as an .

Tachypnea, meaning “breathing” (-pnea) that is “fast” (tachy-), is the opposite of bradypnea, which was discussed earlier on this page. Tachypnea can occur when a person is exercising vigorously or with certain medical conditions such as , (COPD), and (Berry & Fletcher, 2022).

 

Exercises

 

Attribution

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

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

 

References

Berry, J., & Fletcher, J. (2022). What to know about tachypnea. MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324548#oxygen-shortage

Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Semen analysis. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21520-semen-analysis#:~:text=A%20semen%20analysis%20is%20a%20lab%20test%20that%20evaluates%20sperm,that%20more%20testing%20is%20necessa

Mayo Clinic. (2022a). Bradycardia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bradycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355474#:~:text=Bradycardia%20(brad%2De%2DKAHR,than%2060%20times%20a%20minute

Mayo Clinic. (2022b). Urinalysis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/urinalysis/about/pac-20384907#:~:text=A%20urinalysis%20is%20a%20test,concentration%20and%20content%20of%20urine

Mayo Clinic. (2022c). Urinary tract infection. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447

National Cancer Institute. (2022). Neoplasm. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/neoplasm

Smith, M. (2020). Types of breathing problems, explained. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/lung/breathing-problems#:~:text=you%20feel%20better.-,Bradypnea,poisoning%2C%20or%20a%20drug%20overdose

 

Image Credits (images are listed in order of appearance)

Urine sample for Culture and Sensitivity by Ajay Kumar Chaurasiya, CC BY-SA 4.0

Pulse Oximeterr by Beijing Choice Electronic Tech, CC BY-SA 4.0

Malignant Melanoma in situ Left Forearm by Dermanonymous, CC BY-SA 4.0

Colon-Polyp by Kuyohong, CC BY-SA 4.0

License

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The Language of Medical Terminology 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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