Six Medical Terms likely encountered by a Medical Assistant:
1. Symptom: (L. and Gr. Symptoma Anything that has befallen one). Subjective evidence of a disease or a patient’s condition.
Explanation: a symptom is an abnormal condition that the patient experiences as a result of disease. For example headache can be a symptom of brain tumor, abdominal pain a symptom of appendicitis.
2. Sign: (L. signum). Any objective evidence of a condition or disease that is perceptible to the examining physician, as opposed to the subjective sensation (symptom) of the disease.
Explanation: A heart murmur (heard through the stethoscope) may be a sign of valvular heart disease, for which chest pain on exertion might be a symptom.
3. Acute: (L. acutus sharp). Having a short and relatively severe course.
Explanation: As used in medicine, “acute” refers to brief duration or sudden onset of symptoms or disease, and not so much as the severity of the symptom or condition.
4. Chronic: (L. chronicus, Gr. Chronos time). Persisting over a long time.
Explanation: A chronic disease or condition is one that has been present for a long time, usually weeks to months rather than days or hours (acute). For example, appendicitis is considered an acute disease (acute appendicitis), whereas cancer has a chronic course.
5. Etiology: (Gr. Aitia cause + logy). The study or the theory of the factors that cause disease; and the method of their introduction to the host. The cause(s) or origin of a disease or disorder.
Explanation: A medical chart might state that a disease or condition has an infectious etiology, indicating that the disease is caused by the introduction of infectious organisms.
6. Iatrogenic: (iatro + Gr. Gennan to produce). Resulting from the activity of physicians. Currently applied to any adverse condition in a patient occurring as the result of treatment by a physician or surgeon; especially to infections acquired by the patient during treatment.
Example: The patient’s sepsis (blood poisoning) was iatrogenic, occurring as a complication of his infected intravenous fluid line.
Reference: Doorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 32nd. Edition, El Sevier-Mosby-Saunders, 2011.