Medical Words and What They Mean

What’s the difference between a syndrome and a disease? From diagnosis to prognosis, the medical world is full of tongue-tying words many laypeople could benefit from understanding. Here is a list of common medical terms and what they mean.

Condition

“Condition” is a general term used in the medical community to describe, basically, any state of being. Usually, “condition” is used in a context where the patient’s state of being has implications for healthcare. For example, pregnancy can be considered a condition. “Condition” is also used to describe a person’s quality of health, such as “stable condition” (good) or “critical condition” (bad), words you’ll likely hear in the ER.

Disease

“Disease,” with its negative connotation, describes a specific negative condition that affects a structural component or system of the body. For example, a “cardiovascular disease” means malfunction of the cardiovascular system, the system that includes your heart, arteries, veins, and blood.

Disorder

“Disorder” is often interpreted as a “lighter” version of disease. This term describes any negative condition that impairs the patient’s wellbeing, and unlike “disease,” does not need to specify a structural change. Instead, “disorder” focuses on implying functional impairment. For example, a “mental disorder” is any psychological impairment that may impede psychological wellbeing, such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Syndrome 

“Syndrome” is a trickier term. It is very similar to “disease” but lacks its definitive signs, symptoms, and treatments. Usually, “syndrome” is used to describe a set of symptoms and signs that may suggest a particular condition. Interestingly, syndromes don’t necessarily mean bad health, at least not to the extent of diseases. Of course, an individual with Down syndrome can experience health challenges, but they may otherwise lead a relatively normal, healthy life.

One physician who dislikes the term “syndrome” has this to say: “Sometimes a syndrome is a bunch of symptoms that we aren't smart enough yet to understand, and the underlying specific disease process and treatment has not been figured out yet.” (She also goes into detail describing the relationship between something like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease if you want to delve deeper).

Describing Medical Conditions

Now, let’s explore all those specific names of diseases and conditions that are long and hard to pronounce. If you look at a list of names, you may notice patterns. By understanding and remembering certain prefixes and suffixes, you can learn to guess the general idea of what a disease is. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Mal-” simply means “bad,” as in malnutrition.
  • “Hyper-” and “Hypo-” mean too much and too little, respectively. Hyperthermia refers to being too hot, while hypothermia refers to being too cold.
  • “-algia” refers to pain, a suffix used in the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia.
  • “-itis” refers to inflammation, as in bronchitis and arthritis.
  • “-opathy” refers to disease and disorder, such as psychopathy, a personality disorder.

Your Specialist’s Job Title

Your primary care physician or family doctor may refer you to a specialist who has studied a certain part of the body or a family of diseases more extensively. Here are some common specialists and what they study:

  • Endocrinologist – hormones and endocrine system
  • Gynecologist – female reproductive system
  • Oncologist – cancer
  • Ophthalmologist – eyes
  • Pulmonologist – respiratory system
  • Cardiologist – cardiovascular system
  • Dermatologist – skin
  • Gastroenterologist – digestive system
  • Rheumatologist – joints
  • Urologist – urinary system
  • Neurologist – brain and nervous system

Need to Treat Your Condition/Disease/Syndrome/Whatever with Medication?

Words aside, when you feel bad, you go to a doctor who will recommend treatment. One common treatment is medication. If finding affordable medication is a challenge for you, consider buying online from Rx Connected, a trusted pharmacy referral source for affordable medications from Canadian and international pharmacies.

Research for this article was derived from Health Writer Hub, the American Medical Association Manual of Style blog, Medical Billing & Coding Certification, Cigna, and meddict.org.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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