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Queens Health Glossary
An Understandable Medical Glossary
Healthcare can often be confusing. Patients often nod their heads and seem to convey to their doctor that they know what he or she is talking about – even when they have no idea. Some words are scary, some are too long and others don’t sound important when they really are. Ideally, patients should ask their doctor if they have a question about their health, but here is a simple explanation of some common terms, diseases and procedures to help patients better understand their medical issues.
AIDS: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. A disease of the immune system caused by the HIV virus. HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in Queens.
Allergen: A substance capable of producing an
Anaphylaxis: The most severe form of allergy, in which the person’s heart and lungs are unable to keep working, and death occurs unless prompt medical attention is obtained.
Anesthesia: Drug-induced loss of feeling or sensation, usually used in surgery.
Asthma: Asthma makes it difficult for you to breathe. This can happen only every now and then, or in more severe cases, every day. Asthma may also last throughout your life (a chronic disease), but you can control it through treatment with medications. Asthma makes it difficult to breathe because it can cause inflammation in your bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. The inflammation usually starts slowly, but over time it can make the muscles that line the bronchial tubes get tight (bronchospasm). This can cause a blocking or narrowing of your airways, making it difficult to breathe. This is known as an acute asthma episode (also called an attack, flare-up, or exacerbation).
Artery: A vessel that carries blood away from the heart to various parts of the body.
Bacterial Infections: Caused by single-celled microorganisms called bacteria that invade cells, and then make toxins to damage them, which is what causes sickness. Some bacterial infections are contagious, such as strep throat and tuberclosis, and others are not, such as those of the heart valves or bones.
Benign: A nonlife-threatening condition. Not malignant. Not cancerous.
Biopsy: A procedure where physicians insert a needle through the skin into the bone, organ or tissues being studied or make an incision through the skin to expose the area, and then remove a piece of it. The sample is then studied under a microscope to detect cancer, infection and other disorders.
Blood Culture: A test that detects infection in the blood caused by bacteria or fungi. A sample of blood is collected and examined to determine whether bacteria or fungi are present in the blood.
Bone Scan: A nuclear scanning test that identifies new areas of bone growth or breakdown. It can be done to evaluate damage to the bones, detect cancer that has spread to the bones and monitor conditions that can affect the bones.
Cancer: Abnormal cells with uncontrolled cell growth, the result of which can often be fatal.
Capillary: A small, blood-containing vessel connecting the veins and arteries.
Carbon Monoxide: An odorless, colorless, poisonous gas produced from the incomplete combustion of carbon. Prevents the blood from carrying oxygen.
Carcinogen: A cancer-causing substance, such as asbestos or saccharin.
CAT Scan: A Computed Tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures and movement inside of the body, as well as study blood vessels, bones and the spinal cord. During this test, patients lie on a table that is hooked to the CT scanner, which sends X-ray pulses through the body area being studied, then takes a picture of the organ or area.
Catheter: A tube used to drain or inject fluids.
Cauterize: To purposely burn with a hot instrument or caustic substance to destroy tissue, such as a wart.
CBC (Complete Blood Count): A test that provides information about the types and numbers of cells in the blood, including red and white blood cells, and platelets. These tests help physicians evaluate symptoms and diagnose conditions, such as anemia, infections and blood diseases.
Chemotherapy: A drug treatment that is used to kill cancer cells or stop them from spreading. It is often associated with severe side effects.
Cholesterol and Triglyceride: Blood tests that measure the total amount of fatty substances, known as cholesterol and tiglycerides, in the blood. The body uses cholesterol to help build cells and produce hormones, but too much of it in the blood can build up along the inside of an artery and create plaque, increasing chances of stroke or heart attack. There are “good” and “bad” types of cholesterol: good cholesterol is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and it helps to remove fat from the body. High levels of HDL lower chances of developing heart disease. But, bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) mostly carries fat in the body and increases chances of heart disease
Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: A heart surgery, sometimes known as CABG, that reroutes or “bypasses” blood around clogged arteries to improve blood flow and oxygen to the heart. If arteries are clogged by plaque (buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances), blood flow through the heart’s blood vessels can be slowed or stopped, resulting in chest pain or a heart attack. To remedy this, surgeons take parts of healthy blood vessels from different areas of the body and make a “detour” around the blocked part of the coronary artery to connect the healthy vessels to the heart.
Diabetes: Any of several metabolic disorders marked by excessive discharge of urine and persistent thirst, especially one of the two types of diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in Queens.
Defibrillator: A machine that delivers an electrical shock to an irregularly beating heart to restore normal rhythm.
Dialysis: A treatment to remove certain molecules from the blood, particularly in people with kidney failure.
EEG: A test, called electroencephalogram, that measures and records the electrical activity of the brain using sensors (electrodes), which are attached to the head and connected by wires to a computer. The tests detect changes in the normal pattern of the brain’s electrical activity, such as seizures.
EKG: A test, called electrocardiogram and sometimes referred to as ECG, which measures the electrical signals that control the rhythm of the heartbeat, which is the contraction of the heart muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. Electrodes are attached to the skin and connected through wires to a machine that records the brain’s electrical activities and detects abnormalities.
Heart Disease: A structural or functional abnormality of the heart, or of the blood vessels supplying the heart, that impairs its normal functioning. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Queens, and the number one cause of death in New York City.
Hematoma: A tumor-like mass of coagulated blood in the soft tissues. A contusion or bruise.
Hepatitis: A gasteroenterological disease that causes inflammation of the liver.
Hepatitis A: A liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A Virus (HAV), which is spread through close, personal contact or food or water contaminated with the virus. This disease is highly contagious.
Hepatitis B: A liver disease spread through contact with the blood and body fluids of a person infection with the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Unprotected sex and sharing needles to inject drugs are two ways the virus is passed from person to person.
Hepatitis C: A disease of the liver caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), usually spread through direct contact with infected human blood or unprotected sex.
HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus. A virus that slowly destroys the immune system. The virus that causes AIDS. HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in Queens.
Hypertension: When you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, the force of blood against your artery walls is too strong. High blood pressure can damage your arteries, heart, and kidneys, and lead to atherosclerosis and stroke. Hypertension is called a silent killer because it does not cause symptoms unless it is severely high and, without your knowing it, causes major organ damage if not treated.
Immunization/Vaccination: A preparation of a weakened or killed pathogen that is administered through injection into the body in order to stimulate the immune system, the natural disease-fighting system of the body, and help it recognize invading bacteria and viruses. Once the immune system sees the intruders, it can produce substances called antibodies to destroy or disable the invaders, with help from the vaccine.
Influenza: A contagious and infectious respiratory illness known as “the flu” usually occurring in the winter. Influenza is one of the leading causes of death in Queens.
Inoculation: The injection of a disease agent into the body to cause a mild form of the disease and build immunity.
Insulin: The hormone produced by the pancreas for regulating carbohydrate metabolism. Used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus.
Knee Replacement: Knee joint replacement is surgery to replace a painful damaged or diseased knee joint with an artificial joint. The operation is performed under general anesthesia. The orthopedic surgeon makes a cut over the affected knee. The patella (knee cap) is moved out of the way, and the ends of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) are cut to fit the prosthesis. Similarly, the undersurface of the knee cap is cut to allow for placement of an artificial component. The two parts of the prosthesis are implanted onto the ends of the thigh bone (femur), the shin bone (tibia), and the undersurface of the knee cap (patella) using a special bone cement. Usually, metal is used on the end of the femur, and plastic is used on the tibia and patella, for the new knee surface. However, newer surfaces including metal on metal, ceramic on ceramic, or ceramic on plastic are now being used.
Malignancy: A tendency to worsen to a more serious illness or death. Commonly used to describe cancer.
Mammogram: An X-ray test of the mammary glands (breasts) that screens for lumps, cysts or solid masses, and can detect the presence of cancer.
Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges as the result of infection by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. This is a life-threatening disease that must be treated promptly.
MRI: A 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 that other tests, such as X-rays, ultrasounds and CAT scans, can’t see. MRIs are done to find problems, such as tumors and infections. Created by Queens resident Raymond Damadian.
Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is
a chronic neurological disease that involves the central nervous
system – specifically the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
MS can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision,
balance, sensation, and mental functions.
Pap Smear: A test that detects changes in the cells of the cervix using a small sample of cells for the surface of the area. The cells are examined for abnormalities in cells, which could result from cervical cancer and other things. It is recommended that women receive a pap smear within three years of becoming sexually active (intercourse) or by the age of 21.
Placebo: A harmless substance that resembles a medicine; often used to test the effectiveness of medicines.
Seizure: An attack of epilepsy.
Sonogram: A diagnostic medical image created by an ultrasound that shows soft tissues and body cavities.
Standard Immunizations: DTAP –for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis, MMR – for measles, mumps and rubella, Hepatitis A and B, Hib (haemophilus influenza type b), HPV (Human Papillomavirus), Influenza (flu), Meningococcal (immunological deficiencies and travelers to parts of Africa and the Middle East), Pneumococcal (pneumonia, meningitis, ear infections, sinusitis and sepsis in young children), Poliomyelitis (polio), Varicella (chicken pox).
STD: Sexually Transmitted Disease.
Stroke: Deprivation of the blood supply to the brain due to blockage of a blood vessel. Results in unconsciousness, paralysis or other neurologic symptoms. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in Queens.
Thrombosis: Formation of a blood clot within a blood vessel or the heart.
Tumor: Overgrowth of tissue.
Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves that bounce of tissues using special devices to form a picture called a sonogram. This gives physicians and internal view of soft tissues and body cavities. Often, ultrasounds are used to examine a fetus during pregnancy.
Urine Culture: A test that detects and identify organisms (usually bacteria) that may be causing urinary tract infections (UTIs), caused by bacteria in the urethra. Doctors collect a urine sample and examine it under a microscope to determine whether there is bacteria present.
UTI: Urinary Tract Infection.
Vaccination: Inoculation with weakened or dead microorganisms to develop immunity and prevent disease caused by the regular strain of that microorganism.
Viral Infections: Caused by viruses, which are “capsules of genetic material (DNA or RNA).” Viruses require hosts in which they can live and multiply, and eventually invade cells or kill them. Some viruses are contagious, such as influenza, and others, such as West Nile, are not.
X-Ray: A form of radiation, like light or radio waves, that can be focused into a beam and pass through the human body. These are used to produce a picture, showing dense tissues, such as bones, that can determine whether there is a problem.
Sources: Familydoctor.org, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, thefreedictionary.com, webmd.com, Immunization-and-vaccinations.com. Images courtesy National Institute of Health.