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Basic Medical Terminology for the EMT

Medical Terminology Online Patient Record

Basic Medical Terminology for the EMT

This post will give prospective students a head start on their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) education and and give practicing healthcare workers a brush up on basic medical terminology. Learning basic medical terminology can be an overwhelming and depressing aspect of beginning EMT training or any medical training.


However, it’s an obstacle you can prepare for on your own, outside of class before your official EMT program begins. With some time and the right resources anyone can learn the basic language of medicine and help build a strong foundation to a medical career.

Medical Terminology Emergency Medical Response

Importance of Medical Terminology


Anyone joining the medical field will need to learn basic medical terminology. The importance of medical terminology can not be understated because it allows all healthcare workers to communicate in a universal language. Listed below are some other reasons it’s important for an EMT to learn basic medical terminology.


It provides a more specific and succinct way to describe what is going on with your patient. For example, you can write or verbalize:


Patient doesn’t have good muscle coordination with voluntary movements.”


Another way of saying this is to use a medical term and say:


Patient has ataxia.”


Ataxia is also more concise because by definition it tells the reader/listener that the issue is a symptom of an underlying problem and not a disease itself.


You will need to “document everything” as an EMT and medical terminology is a must.


Healthcare co-worker’s and patient paperwork will use basic medical terminology on the job, every single shift. Knowing the basics not only increases your ability to understand and communicate, it also gives you a more professional appearance as an EMT.


There will not always be time to consult your medical dictionary to clarify terms. Being an EMT will require rapid assessment and emergency transport of patients. 


Written patient records will contain medical terms and common medical abbreviations so it’s important to be familiar with them.


Basic medical terminology is integrated into the National Registry of EMT exams. By learning medical root words, prefixes, and suffixes students can break any unfamiliar terms into their component parts. This makes it much easier to determine the meaning of new or unfamiliar medical terms during the exams.


Basic Medical Terminology


The majority of basic medical terminology has been taken from the Greek and Latin languages. This means that by learning some basic medical root words, prefixes, and suffixes in these languages you can become familiar with a whole world of medical terms, conditions, diseases, treatments, procedures, etc.


This is because a lot of medical terms are just smaller words combined together as descriptors.


How should you study basic medical terminology?


The main thing to know is that a lot of medical terms are smaller words mixed and matched to create the correct medical term. These smaller words are called prefixes, suffixes, and root words.


A simple way to learn basic medical terminology is to separate terms into root words, prefixes and suffixes and then learn them by group.


Infographic Basic EMT TerminologyThis may seem confusing but it’s actually much simpler than memorizing a list of unrelated term and their definitions. Especially because many medical terms may already be familiar to you.


For example, you may have already heard the term gastro and know that it refers to the stomach.


A root word is the base word that makes up the term, but it can’t usually stand alone in a sentence. A medical terminology prefix is a group of letters added at the beginning to add description or meaning. A medical terminology suffix is added at the end to add meaning such as condition, disease, etc.


Commonly, basic medical terms will be made up of a root word combined with either a prefix or suffix, or both a prefix and suffix.


It’s also common to have more than one root word used in a medical term. Medical terminology can include a combining vowel to help with word pronunciation.


The combining vowel is frequently an “o” but it can also be an e, i, or u. Whatever vowel makes the word pronunciation more natural.

EMT Medical Terminology


An example of a medical term containing both a prefix, suffix, and root word is the term Hyperglycemia. For this term Hyper is the prefix and means excessive and Glyc is the root word referring to sugar. Emia is the suffix and refers to a blood condition, so when they are combined together you get a medical term meaning a blood condition with excessive sugar.


Prefix / Root / Suffix
Hyper / Glyc / Emia
Excessive / Sugar / Blood Condition
Blood condition of excessive sugar


A good way to study medical terminology is with flash cards so that you can mix and match the root word, prefix, and suffixes as desired. This gives you a lot of flexibility and allows less flashcards required to complete more words.


Once you are familiar with the terminology, there are some good online tools for quizzing yourself and improving your knowledge base.

Common Medical Terminology


It’s hard to discuss any kind of medical terminology without bringing attention to both ancient Greek and Latin languages. Greek is important because it’s estimated that about 75% of medical terminology is Greek in origin. Latin was the language of science until the 18th century, so many anatomical terms originated from latin.


Fortunately, both of these languages are found throughout the English language today, so they shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar.


The medical word parts lists below can give you a head start before beginning an EMT program. Learn them now so you don’t spend valuable time learning new medical language during EMT training. Instead focus on learning new skills like patient assessment, performing a primary survey, and other EMT program curriculum.


Here is a list of some common root words used in basic medical terminology.
(The meaning is shortened and often can have Pertaining to included in the definition. Ex: Derm = Pertaining to the Skin.)


Medical Root Words: Table 1

Root Word Meaning Root Word Meaning
Aden Gland Febr Fever
Arthr Joint Gastr Stomach
Carcin Cancer Hepat Liver
Derm Skin Osteo Bone
Enter Intestine Pulmon Lung
Esthes Sensation Ren/Neph Kidney


Medical Terminology Pulmon Lung
Root Word: Pulmon – Lung

Medical Root Words: Table 2

Root Word Meaning Root Word Meaning
Adip Fat Ov Egg
Alges Pain Ped Child or Foot
Blephar Eyelid Pneum Air/Breath
Bucc Cheek Pod Foot
Carp Wrist Rhin Nose
Chole Bile Sangui Blood
Foramen Opening Soma Body
Fract Break Stoma Body Opening
Ocul Eye Viscera Internal Organs


Medical Terminology Ocul - Eye
Root Word: Ocul – Eye

Medical Root Words: Table 3

Root Word Meaning Root Word Meaning
Acou Hear Proct Rectum
Andr Male Psych Mind
Bursa Pouch/Sac Pto Fall
Cervic Neck or Cervix Pyr Fire/Fever
Cili Eyelid Sarco Tissue
Neuro Nerve Stern Breastbone
Paed Child Toxo Poison
Pleur  Rib/Side Trich Hair
If you are planning on beginning an EMT training program without taking a medical terminology class, it’s a good idea to learn some basic medical terminology on your own.
Basic Medical Terminology Neuro - Nerve
Root Word: Neuro – Nerve

Medical Terminology Prefixes

Medical Prefixes: Table 1

Prefix Meaning Prefix Meaning
A / An- To Lack/Without Hyper- Over/Excessive
Ab- Away from/Off Hypo- Under/Deficient
Ad- Toward/To Mal- Bad/Abnormal
Brady- Slow Phag- Eating/Swallowing
Dys- Painful/Abnormal/Difficult Post- After/Behind/Following
Ect- Out From Pre- Before/In front of/Forward
Endo- Within/Inside Pyel- Kidney or Pelvis
Epi- On/Upon Sub- Beneath/Nearly/Downward
Ex- Removal/Out/Outside of Tachy- Fast


Medical Prefixes: Table 2

Prefix Meaning Prefix Meaning
Abdom- Abdominal De- Down From
Ana- Up/Back/Again Di- Twice/Double
Angio- Vessel Eu- Good/Well/Normal
Ante- Before Hemat- Blood
Anti- Against Infra- Beneath/Lower/Below
Auto- Self Inter- Between
Calc- Stone Intra- Within/Inside of
Cardi- Heart Supra- Above
Cephal- Head Trans- Across/Through/Beyond


Medical Prefixes: Table 3

Prefix Meaning Prefix Meaning
Chondr- Cartilage Poly- Many
In- In/Into/Inside Pre- Before
Lith- Stone Retr/o- Behind/Backward
Necr- Death Scler- Hard/Sclera(Eye)
Olig- Scant/Deficient Semi- Half/Partial
Para- By the side Supra More/Above/Excess
Path/o- Disease Therm Temperature
Pepsia- Digestion Ultra Beyond/In excess
Phleb- Vein Vas/o Vessel


Medical Prefixes: Table 4

Prefix Meaning Prefix Meaning
Bi- Two Heter- Different/Other
Bio- Life Iso- Equal
Cerbr- Brain My/o- Muscle
Contra- Against Oro- Mouth
Cost- Rib Ortho- Straight/Normal
Cyt- Cell Oto- Ear
Dia- Through Pan- All
Extra- Outside of Per- Through/Very/Excess
Glyc- Sugar Peri- Around


Basic Medical Terminology Biology - Study of Life
Bio – Life Ology – Study of

Medical Terminology Suffixes


Medical Suffix: Table 1

Suffix Meaning Suffix Meaning
-algia Pain -osis Disease Process
-cele Hernia/Swelling -phagia Eating/Swallowing
-centesis Surgical puncture -phasia Speech
-ectomy To cut out/Remove -plasty Surgical repair
-emia Condition of the blood -rraphy Suture/Repair
-genic Producing/Causing -scope Instrument for exam
-itis Inflammation of -scopy View with Instrument
-oma Swelling/Tumor -sis Action/condition/process


Medical Suffix: Table 2

Suffix Meaning Suffix Meaning
-asthen Weakness -ostomy  Surgical create opening
-cyte Cell -otomy  Surgical incision
-Gram Record -pathy  Disease
-Graph Istrument to create record -phobia  Fear
-ia / y Condition of/process -pnea Breathing
-lysis Destruction/separation -ptosis  Drooping
-megaly enlargement  -rrhage  Flow/Discharge
-ology The study of -rrhea  Flow/Discharge



Medical Terminology Practice

Here are some example medical terminology practice terms. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how you can work out the answer without knowing much about human physiology.

Don’t get frustrated if you see a question and don’t know the answer, instead take a moment and try to separate the medical word parts into root word, prefix, or suffix.


Once you know the the different components of the word, you can check the Medical Terminology Tables above for the individual meanings and then figure out what the word as a whole means. These questions might seem more difficult because they require Critical Thinking and test at a higher level than standard quizzes. 


A more basic testing style would ask simpler questions like: “Identify which part of the word is the root word” or “What is the definition of the term Neuro.” EMT training and testing will teach and test critical thinking skills so it’s good to start practicing now.


Here is an example to start the medical terminology practice section:

A disease or malfunction of the nerves is __________. 

A. Cardiology
B. Neuropathy
C. Osteomyosis
D. Hepatitis


The great thing about medical terminology is it provides a base knowledge for speaking the language of medicine. Therefore, you don’t have to know anything about the nervous system or any other body system to answer this question.


All you need is a basic understanding of the medical terms and their meanings. Based on this knowledge you can determine that the answer is:

C. Neuropathy


Neuropathy can be broken down into the root word: Neuro which means pertaining to the nerve and the suffix: pathy which means relating to disease. (Neuro can be found above on the Medical Root Words Table 3 and -pathy can be found on the Medical Suffix Table 2.)

According to medical terminology definitions nueropathy has something to do with nerve disease which answers the question above.


Here is some more medical terminology practice:


Basic Medical Terminology Quiz!

1. _______ is the absence of breathing.

A. Necrosis
B. Endoscope
C. Toxicology
D. Apnea


2. A cancer causing agent is called _______.

A. Intravenous
B. Carcinogenic
C. Hepatitis
D. Toxicology


3. Inflammation of the liver is called _______.

A. Cytology
B. Nephrectomy
C. Apnea
D. Hepatitis


4. _______ is the study of poisons.

A. Cytology
B. Toxicology
C. Carcinogenic
D. Hepatitis


5. The Paramedic administered a dopamine solution using the _______ method, which injects directly into the vein.

A. Nephrectomy
B. Necrosis
C. Intravenous
D. Hyperglycemia


6. During a procedure, the doctor used an instrument called an _______ to perform an exam and look inside the patient’s abdominal cavity.

A. Cytology
B. Hyperglycemia
C. Hepatitis
D. Endoscope


7. _______ is the medical and scientific study of cells.

A. Cytology
B. Apnea
C. Nephrectomy
D. Intravenous


8. A condition with an elevated level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood is frequently found with diabetes and is referred to as _______. (Hint: check Medical Prefixes Tables 1 & 4 and Medical Suffix Table 2)

A. Carcinogenic
B. Endoscope
C. Hyperglycemia
D. Necrosis


9. The respected surgeon carefully removed the kidney during the _______ procedure. (Hint: check Medical Root Words: Table 1)

A. Nephrectomy
B. Necrosis
C. Intravenous
D. Hepatitis


10. _______ is a disease process that causes cell death or tissue death. (Hint: check Medical Prefixes: Table 3 and Medical Suffix: Table 1)

A. Hyperglycemia
B. Endoscope
C. Nephrectomy
D. Necrosis

Basic Medical Terminology Question Marks


1 – D
2 – B
3 – D
4 – B
5 – C
6 – D
7 – A
8 – C
9 – A
10 – D



Basic Medical Terminology Great Job on Quiz

Want more terminology pages?

→ Check out our Medical Abbreviations page.

→ Check out our EMT Mnemonics and Medical Acronyms page.


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