Sometimes, the quality of your health care can depend on the strength of your vocabulary.
Patients will struggle to make decisions about their health care if they don't understand some of the most basic medical terms.
People will have a better chance of successfully carrying out the prescribed treatment if they make sure they comprehend everything the doctor tells them before they leave the office.
But getting up-to-speed with terms you need to know isn't always easy.
Dr. Stephen Bushay, of AtlantiCare Physician Group Primary Care in Northfield, said the list of medical terms that may come up the public doesn't understand goes on and on.
"You hear docs all the time tell someone when you are on Coumadin, when you are on a blood thinner, or you are on a steroid, you shouldn't be on NSAIDs. Patients go OK, but they have no idea what the doctor said," Bushay said. "I'll catch myself, and I will say NSAIDs, and then, I will say non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin, Advil, Aleve, Ibuprofen. Most people don't know that Motrin, Advil and Ibuprofen are the same drug. It's three names for the same darn thing."
Bushay said NSAIDs is an example where docs use the term all day long, and it makes all the sense in the world to them, but patients look at the doctors when the word is used and say, 'I don't get it."
Inflammation is a term Bushay finds he explains all the time to patients.
"They will say, 'What's inflammation?' I will say, 'It's swelling. It's irritation.' Then, they will say, Oh, I have an infection.' You can have infection with inflammation. You can just inflammation, swelling. You twist your ankle. It swells up. It's inflamed, but it's not infected," Bushay said.
More people are able to understand these days than in the past, but some terms elude them, said Dr. Anupama Rao, internal medicine physician at the Southern Ocean Medical Center.
"When doctors say the patient has a partial heart block, it's actually a bundle-branch block. We're actually talking about the conduction system in their heart, the electrical system in their heart, but for the patient, the minute we say, 'You have a partial heart block; they think their entire heart is block somewhere," Rao said.
The same confusion with the term heart block extends to heart and kidney failure, Rao said.
"Heart failure seems to be pretty serious when you hear about it, but it has various shades to it. It doesn't mean your heart has completely failed," Rao said. "There are varying degrees of terminology also with kidney failure. There are various stages, 1 to 4, of kidney failure."
Rao said she is not sure how patients understand the terms biopsy or bone marrow disorder.
A biopsy is the process for removing a tissue sample for testing. Bone marrow is the body's primary manufacturing plant for red blood cells, white bloods cells and platelets, which are the main parts of blood cells. A bone marrow disorder is various conditions and diseases that can affect the structure and function of the bone marrow.
"For them, blood is only one thing. For many patients, blood is blood, something red in color, and that's it, but it has so many components to it. You have red bloods cells, the white blood cells, the platelets, so when we talk about a blood disorder ... I don't know if they fully get it about what part of the blood we are referring to because many times, they will ask me if they take an iron pill, will they be OK, but it's nothing to do with iron deficiency, it's something else."
Dr. Jon Pomeroy of the Shore Physician Group in Somers Point, which is affiliated with Shore Medical Center, said there are many terms that can trip a patient up, either in remembering their past medical history or in receiving a new diagnosis.
Pomeroy mentioned three medical terms - diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. The person has high blood sugar because either insulin production is inadequate or because the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin or both.
Hypertension, also referred to as high blood pressure, is a condition in which the arteries have persistently elevated blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing up against the blood vessel walls. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump. Hyperlipidemia is an abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood. Hyperlipidemia includes several conditions, but one of the things it usually means is you have high cholesterol.
"People confuse certain specialist postions, like their rheumatologist and their endocrinologist," Pomeroy said "Their previous workups, sometimes, they don't recognize or differentiate between a X-ray or a MRI, for example."
Rheumatologist deals mainly with clinical problems, disorders of the immune system. Endocrinologist deals with the study of various hormones and their actions and disorders in the body.
X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. An X-ray machine sends individual X-ray particles through the body. The images are recorded on a computer or film. Magnetic resonance imaging is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. In many cases, an MRI gives different information about structures in the body than can be seen with an X-ray.
Elizabeth Martinez is a clinical nurse navigator at Southern Ocean Medical Center. Martinez believes that for many patients, it is hard to understand the medical terms being thrown at them.
"I do tell them when they are going to the doctor that they should bring someone else with them because they are not going to hear everything the doctor has to say. I also recommend that they bring a notebook, so they can take some notes, and they can also refer back to that," Martinez said.
There is so much medical terminology out there that health care professionals have to try to remember to talk in a language the patient understands, Martinez said.
"As a nurse navigator, I'm there to try to simplify things for them. I'm always telling them if you have questions, you can always talk to me. Sometimes, they feel because I'm following them, they build up a trusting relationship with me, and they ask me things that they may not necessarily ask the doctor. They may feel more comfortable asking me versus the doctor so to speak," said Martinez, who works with cancer patients. "I think people are afraid to ask questions. They don't want to feel stupid."
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Medical terms to know
Here are additional medical terms it would be good to be familiar with prior to seeing a doctor:
Angioplasty: when a balloon is passed into an artery and inflated to enlarge it and increase blood flow
BMI: “body mass index,” which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight
Cholesterol: a type of fat produced in your liver and transported by your blood
Colonoscopy: a test that looks inside your colon, or intestines, often to check for cancerous growths
EHR/EMR: electronic health record or electronic medical record; the high-tech version of your old manila-folder patient file or chart
Endoscope: an optical instrument that looks like a long, thin tube that is inserted into your body for viewing
Hemoglobin A1C: a test that looks at your blood sugar levels over the past three months
Intravenous: putting medication or fluids directly into your veins, which is directly into your bloodstream
Polyp: a growth or mass on a mucous membrane (usually not cancerous).
Pneumonia: a serious infection of the lungs and respiratory system that can be caused by bacteria, viruses and other causes