Archive for March, 2010

Often, during a patient visit, I find myself explaining medical terms in more common language that a layperson can understand.

The following medical terms frequently come up in my conversations with patients. After each medical term is the common word or an explanation.

Conjunctivitis: pinkeye

Otitis media: ear infection in the middle ear, behind the eardrum

External otitis: “swimmer’s ear,” an infection of the ear canal

Pharyngitis: sore throat

Fracture: broken bone

Sprain: stretched ligament, a tough tissue that connects bone to bone

Strain: pulled muscle

Contusion: blunt impact injury, often causing a bruise

Hematoma: localized collection of blood

Hemorrhage: uncontrolled bleeding

Laceration: a cut to the skin

Abrasion: scraped skin

Skin abscess: boil

Hordeolum: sty

Cystitis: bladder infection

Pyleonephritis: kidney infection

Cellulitis: a bacterial skin infection

Analgesic: pain-relieving medicine

Hypertension: high blood pressure

Arrhythmia: irregular heartbeat

CPR: cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Myocardial infarction: heart attack

Angina: lack of oxygen to the heart, causing chest pain

Cerebral vascular accident (CVA): stroke

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): mini-stroke

Hemetemesis: vomiting blood

Hemoptysis: coughing up blood

Melena: black blood in stool

Hypoglycemia: low blood sugar

Cardiovascular: adjective for things pertaining to the heart and blood vessels

Renal: adjective for things pertaining to the kidneys

Hepatic: adjective for things pertaining to the liver

Cerebral: adjective for things pertaining to the brain

Cutaneous: adjective for things pertaining to the skin

Jaundice: yellowing of the skin

Edema: swelling

Medical terms can be confusing. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for an explanation in words you understand.

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There has been a lot of attention recently about the amount of radiation to which patients are exposed by medical x-rays. As with most medical procedures, x-rays are safe when used with care — especially because, in most cases, as little radiation as possible is used to obtain the needed results.

Why worry about radiation exposure? Radiation in sufficient doses can ultimately cause cancer. It is difficult to arrive at any accurate figure of the number of cancer cases due to x-ray exposure, but it is probably fairly low.

The recent discussion of radiation exposure deals with the newer generation of x-ray exams, especially CT (or CAT) scans. About 60 million scans are done yearly in the U.S. This computerized type of x-ray exam has revolutionized the ability of a physician to diagnose critical diseases and injuries, such as appendicitis, stroke, blood clots in the lungs, kidney stones, internal injuries from accidents, heart attacks and many more serious medical problems. However, the scans expose a patient to much higher doses of radiation than plain x-rays.

Technological advances can help in reducing radiation exposure. Newer scanners may use less radiation, and newer guidelines may allow doctors to use CT scans less often. Attitudes about scanning might need to change, as well. Doctors and patients need a heightened level of awareness about the amount of radiation to which one is exposed.

Another source of concern is the entire-body scan, which has been made popular through direct advertising to the public and can probably cause more harm than good.

In addition to medical diagnostic radiation, we are all exposed to natural environmental radiation from cosmic forces, such as the sun, and even rocks and minerals. You might live in an area with a high exposure to radon gas in your house, which can give you added exposure to radiation. There is also exposure — although very minimal — to man-made factors, such as nuclear weapons-testing fallout, industrial sources, luminous watch dials and smoke detectors.

The bottom line is that you should agree to have a radiation-based medical test when it can improve your health or save your life. Your doctor should discuss with you the benefits versus risks of any x-ray test that is ordered for you.

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