Medical Jargon

Short piece on medical jargon



Whenever you visit a medical practice, whether it be vets, doctors or dentists it often seems like we speak a different language when talking about you or your pets coughs, colds, bumps and bruises.


Well, in a way we do! We use a lot of words based on the classic Greek and Latin languages as historically veterinary medicine evolved with the human medicines, mixed in with many newer science based words.


“So we are chopping off his left leg, right?”


The reason for this is not to bamboozle or create a vale of mystery surrounding our profession. Medicine as a science needs a high degree of accuracy in communicating meaning and ideas. So to avoid any double meaning and misunderstanding which could have serious consequences, we adopt these often old fashioned sounding words and phrases into our daily lives.


“A dog has four paws.

It has two hind legs, with hind paws.

It has two fore legs, with fore paws.

Does a dog have ten paws?”


Here is an explanation of a few of the more commonly used words and phrases that you may encounter in a consultation at your local veterinary practice.


Lets start with the common ones;


INFLAMMATION is basically a swelling. Red sore angry looking swollen tissue, whatever the cause, infection, bump, sting or burn.


If are talking about inflammation of a particular tissue, we use the medical name for the tissue, with “-itis” attached to signify the medical problem, for example:


Arthritis is an inflammation or swelling of the joint (Arthro– meaning joint, -itis means swelling).

Dermatitis is an inflammation or swelling of the skin (Derma = skin)

Gingivitis is an inflammation or swelling of the gum (Gingival = gum)

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva (the pink bit on the inside of the eyelid surrounding the eye).

So, these words refer to descriptions of tissue rather than a diagnosis of the cause of the condition.

Now you might hear the vet referring to something as being “pruritic” or a patient as having “pruritus”.

Pruritus just means itchy and refers to something being itchy, usually skin.

HYPO and HYPER – Not to be confused.

Hyper added to the start of a word means “over”, as in hyperactive (over active).

Hypo added to the start of a word means “under” as in hypodermic (under the skin).

These terms can be confused as they sound very similar and mean the opposite. They are often used when describing hormonal conditions when a certain organ in the body is over or under performing, for example:


Hyperthyroidism: Is a condition mostly seen in cats affecting the thyroid gland (a gland in the throat) which produces thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone (also called T4) controls the bodies metabolism (the general drive or get-up-and-go). Hyperthyroid cats tend to be very excitable, with short tempers, are thin but eat ravenously.

Hypothyroidism: In contrast is a condition mostly seen in dogs. The thyroid gland is under active and dogs tend to plod along, be overweight, under active with a poor coat and dry skin.

Two conditions, that sound very similar to say but are poles apart in presentation and treatment.

Just to finish, a couple of terms used pretty exclusively at the vets that often cause confusion on both sides.

Jabs or injections – Can be anything we inject with a hypodermic needle and syringe. This could be not only an annual vaccination (also called a booster vaccination) against the common infectious diseases in our pets, but also it could be a regular medical treatment.

Castration – Is the removal of the testicles from a male animal under general anaesthetic to control breeding.

Spaying – Is removal of the ovaries and uterus from the female animal under general anaesthetic to control breeding.

Neutering – Refers to both male and female and can mean spaying or castration.

Sedation – is the use of drugs to make an animal feel sleepy. It is a way of reducing stress for the patient and allowing the vet to perform a minor or delicate procedure while the patient remains calm and still (it is also sometimes called a tranquilizer). During sedation, a patient is still awake but sleepy and can still feel pain, as such there is a certain level of unpredictability to sedation and in many cases a light general anaesthetic is safer and better.

General Anaesthetic – in this case drugs are used to bring the patient to a state of unconsciousness. The patient has oxygen administered (usually by a tube placed down the throat) aiding breathing and monitors are used to check on vital signs. There is firm control over the patient’s condition and the animal is pain free and unaware of what is happening. A light general anaesthetic is always safer than heavy sedation.


I hope this better equips you next time you and your pet visit the vets!


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