As you sit in your doctor’s office waiting for the results of your last medical test, you can’t help but be a little nervous about the results. What if something is wrong — how will that affect your health and your family? We’re all hoping that once the doctor starts talking you can breathe a sigh of relief since everything will be OK, won’t it? Sometimes though, there’s so much jargon and so many unfamiliar terms you’re liable to miss the next thing she says because you’re still trying to figure out the LAST thing.
I hope regular readers of these articles realize how hard I try to avoid fancy medical terms or at least explain them as we go. I do feel an important obligation to be clear and straightforward (at least when it comes to medical issues!)
However, most experts in a field sometimes do forget that not everyone understands the jargon they take for granted. Doctors usually really do want to do their best to make your diagnosis easy for you to understand, but nevertheless, sometimes you’ll hear medical terms you may not understand.
Sure it’s good when patients know some basic medical terminology related to their health, but it’s the doctor’s job to be sure you understand your diagnosis. So you should always be comfortable asking questions and requesting that they slow down and explain.
Knowing what some of the following terms mean may help you understand much of what’s said during your visit with the doctor. If you have a specific illness, ask your doctor for more information about your disease if you would like to learn more.
Acute vs. chronic: Acute refers to an illness that has a sudden onset and generally lasts for a short time, such as a cold or the flu. Chronic refers to a disease or problem that lasts for a long time, such as diabetes.
Antiviral: Antiviral refers to a medication used to fight viruses, like influenza. These are different than antibiotics, which are used to fight illnesses caused by bacteria.
CT scan: Also called a CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scan, a CT (Computerized Tomography) scan uses X-rays and a computer to create images of different parts of your body. Your doctor will use this when regular X-rays aren’t detailed enough.
Hemoglobin A1C: Also called the HbA1c test, this test measures average blood sugar levels over the last two to three months. It’s used to monitor people with diabetes to see if their medication should be adjusted.
Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia is another word for high blood sugar. You’ll hear this term used frequently when doctors talk about diabetes. The opposite is hypoglycemia and can result if too much insulin is used for the amount of food eaten.
In remission: Remission is a term used with cancer care. Partial remission means cancer is still present, but the tumor has shrunk or there is less cancer overall. Complete remission means that there is no evidence of cancer anywhere in your body.
NSAIDs: NSAIDs is short for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It’s a type of pain reliever, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Palliative: Palliative is a type of care that is meant to relieve pain and provide comfort, but does not cure a disease. It is used frequently when talking about terminal illnesses.
Polyp: A polyp is a small growth located on a mucous membrane in your body. They are usually benign, which means they are not cancerous or harmful.
Terminal: A terminal illness is one that cannot be cured, and the most reasonable expectation is that the patient will die in a relatively short period.
Please, if you hear a term you don’t know, it’s always a good idea to ask instead of Googling for the answer. You’ll be better able to get the full story by asking follow-up questions until you understand.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]