by Neely L. Cotten, MSN, ACNP-BC

While I was watching the nightly news a few evenings back, I cringed.  I watched as the manicured anchorwoman talked in depth of “two-type diabetes.”  As a healthcare provider, her misuse of medical terminology sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.  I wanted to shake the television and yell “It’s type-two diabetes!  Type-two.”

Then I calmed down. I remembered that it’s our job as professionals job to explain and educate the public when they step into our world.  When you and I explain and educate, we serve our patients and clients and members…physically, emotionally, financially and otherwise.drs

We are immersed in pseudo-medical vernacular. It shows up in popular culture, our business life, and our casual speech.  Professional, technical dialects require training; lawyers, business persons, and physicians are just a few of the groups who use a daily language specific to their specialty.

Case in point…

A study was recently conducted to assess patients’ true comprehension of informed consent.  Informed consent is the process of obtaining permission to perform a medical intervention on a patient.  The healthcare provider must review the risks, benefits, and timeline of the procedure by speaking one-on-one with the patient.  Permission can only be granted by an individual with the capacity to comprehend what’s happening.

The majority of consent documents for medical diagnosis and treatment, however, are written at a reading level above that of the majority of the US population.  Despite granting their informed consent, the study showed that patients are repeating medical terms, agreeing to treatments and accepting diagnoses they do not understand. And despite this documented effort to improve patient education, patients reported feelings of stress, confusion and anxiety prior to their medical treatment.

So, as a public service…dr

Rather than merely curse the darkness, I’ve compiled a short list of common medical terms you may (or may not) think you understand along with a brief definition!

  • Hypertension – High blood pressure
  • Hypotension – Low blood pressure
  • Arrythmia – Irregular heart beat
  • Cardiovascular – Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels
  • Myocardial Infarction – Heart attack
  • Diuretic – A medication used to help the body dispose of excess fluid
  • Embolism – The blockage of blood flow in the vessels caused by a blood clot; this means oxygen and other blood nutrients cannot reach the tissues supplied by those vessels.
  • Diabetes – A predisposed state of high blood glucose (sugar) because the body cannot create enough insulin to regulate the levels
  • Type 1 Diabetes – A genetic condition where the body does not create its own insulin, causing very high blood glucose levels
  • Type 2 Diabetes – An acquired condition where the body becomes resistant to its own insulin and cannot regulate the high blood glucose without exogenous insulin
  • Referred pain – Pain located in one area of the body that is actually caused by injury to another area; for example: a headache may be referred pain caused by a stiff or strained neck muscle
  • Acute – A condition characterized by sudden, rapid severity and ending after a short course
  • Chronic – An on-going problem typically last longer than 3-6 months
  • Palliative – A treatment or intervention designed to provide comfort to the patient, not cure the disease

Also for your enjoyment and edification, take a look at the MKC Homepage for a daily medical term and explanation.

Neely L. Cotten, MSN, ACNP-BC, is a Legal Nurse Consultant with MKC Medical Management.  Contact Neely at 865-551-6800 or