Medical Glossary

Acid fast: refers to organisms whose cell wall holds onto the dye, or stain, used to test for their presence in a specimen like sputum, or phlegm; a positive test result from the acid-fast stain indicates the patient has TB. see TB

Bias: something that distorts the real effect in a study, so that the researchers get the wrong answer. The term does not suggest that the researchers are biased, but rather that sources of error can easily occur in studies.

Body mass index (BMI): Is a measure of the relationship between weight and height. And the most common way to determine whether people are underweight, overweight or have a normal weight. A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight, BMI between 18.5 and 25 is “normal weight,” and BMI between 25 and 30 is “overweight.” Anyone with BMI over 30 is considered very overweight (obese).

CCT: Certificate of completion of training. Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. The Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR) provides an alternative route to the specialist register for those doctors who have not followed a traditional training programme, but who may have gained the same skills as CCT holders.

Cells: The smallest units of a structure in the body; the building blocks for all parts of the body.

Certificate of completion of training: Confirms that a doctor has completed an approved training programme in the UK and is eligible for entry onto the GP register or the specialist register. Abbreviated to CCT.

Cervical Cytology: The study of cells taken from the cervix using a microscope; also called the Pap test.

Cervical Biopsy: A minor surgical procedure to remove a small piece of cervical tissue that is then examined under a microscope in a laboratory.

Cervix: The lower, narrow end of the uterus at the top of the vagina.

Chemicals of major public health concern: WHO has listed these as its 10 chemicals of public health concern - Air pollution, Arsenic, Asbestos, Benzene, Cadmium, Dioxin and dioxin-like substances, Inadequate or excess fluoride, Lead, Mercury, and Highly hazardous pesticides (see here and here for more --- opens new windows)

Cheyne-Stokes breathing: An abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by progressively deeper, and sometimes faster, breathing followed by a gradual decrease that results in a temporary stop in breathing called an apnea. The pattern repeats, with each cycle usually taking 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It is an oscillation of ventilation between apnea and hyperpnea with a crescendo-diminuendo pattern, and is associated with changing serum partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Colposcopy: Viewing of the cervix, vulva, or vagina under magnification with an instrument called a colposcope.

Confidence interval: even if studies are perfectly designed and carried out, the results may show variability because of the play of chance. A confidence interval covers the likely range of the true effect. For example, the result of a study may be that 40 per cent (95 per cent confidence interval 30–50 per cent) of people are helped by a treatment. That means that we can be 95 per cent certain that the true effect is between 30 and 50 per cent.

Co-Testing: Use of both the Pap test and HPV test to screen for cervical cancer in women aged 30–65 years.

Dehydration: excessive loss of fluid from the body.

HCPC: The Health and Care Professions Council. A regulatory body that maintains a register of a number of healthcare professions.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): A virus that attacks certain cells of the body’s immune system and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): The name for a group of related viruses, some of which cause genital warts and some of which are linked to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.

Hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus.

Inflammation: part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. It is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The five classical signs of inflammation are heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

Intervention: any therapy, surgical procedure, diagnostic or screening test or change in lifestyle or behaviour intended to have an effect on health.

Immune System: The body’s natural defense system against foreign substances and invading organisms, such as bacteria that cause disease.

Laparotomy: surgical procedure involving a large incision through the abdominal wall to gain access into the abdominal cavity.

Mediastinum: central division of the thoracic cavity containing the heart, thymus gland, portions of the oesophagus and trachea, and other structures. For clinical purposes it is traditionally divided into the anterior, middle, posterior, and superior regions.

Multibacillary: the presence of, or containing a lot of bacilli. see Leprosy

NHS: The National Health Service (NHS) is the name used for each of the public health services in the United Kingdom – the National Health Service in England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland – as well as a term to describe them collectively.

NMC: The Nursing and Midwifery Council in the UK. A regulatory body that maintains a register of nurses, midwives and health visitors.

Number needed to treat (NNT): the number of people who must be treated to result in benefit in one person. It is the inverse of absolute risk reduction.

Objective structured clinical examination (OSCE): A type of examination used in medicine and other health professions to test a broad range of clinical skills and other skills such as communication. The examination takes place via a series of stations usually lasting 5-10 minutes, and the student progresses from station to station with a different examiner each time. Actors may be used in place of real patients.

Odds ratio: a way of measuring relative risk.

Outcome: any identified change in health status after a disease, an exposure to something or a preventive or therapeutic intervention. By comparing the outcomes of two experimental groups, one that receives the intervention and one that does not, the effect of an intervention can be assessed. Most often, the frequency of bad outcomes (that is, poor health or death) is measured.

Pap Test: A test in which cells are taken from the cervix and vagina and examined under a microscope.

Pathophysiology: study of the changes in the way the body works due to disease.

Paucibacillary: the presence of, or containing just a few bacilli. see TB (especially in children) and Leprosy

Pharmacy assistants: In the UK, they work as part of a pharmacy team under the direction of a registered pharmacist. Pharmacy assistants help pharmacists order, prepare and dispense medicines. They use their customer service skills in a pharmacy to help pharmacists.

Pharmacy technicians: In the UK, they manage the supply of medicines in a community pharmacy and assist pharmacists with advisory services. In hospitals, they do more specialised work such as manufacturing or preparing complex medicines.

Primary care: Primary health care is the first point of contact for health care for most people. It is mainly provided by primary care physicians (i.e. general practitioners/GPs or family physicians), but community nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists are also primary health care providers. In some localities, such care may be by a clinical officer (as in parts of Africa), or an Ayurvedic or other traditional medicine professional (as in parts of Asia).

Randomised controlled trial (RCT): a trial in which people are allocated randomly to either an intervention group or a control group.

Relative risk (RR): the rate (risk) of poor outcomes in the intervention group divided by the rate of poor outcomes in the control group. For example, if the rate of poor outcomes is 20 per cent in the intervention group and 30 per cent in the control group, the relative risk is 0.67 (20 per cent divided by 30 per cent). The relative risk is 1 when the intervention has no effect, below 1 when it does good and above 1 when it does harm.

Relative risk reduction (RRR): the extent to which the risk of a poor outcome is reduced by an intervention. In the example given in Relative risk (above), the relative risk reduction, expressed as a percentage, is 33 per cent (1.0 – 0.67 = 0.33).

Risk: the probability that an event will occur, for example, that an individual will die or become ill within a stated period of time.

Sagittal: In anatomy, the sagittal plane, or longitudinal plane, is an anatomical plane which divides the body into right and left parts. The plane may be in the center of the body splitting it into two equal halves or away from the midline splitting it into unequal parts.

Speculum: An instrument used to hold open the walls of the vagina.

Uterus: A muscular organ located in the female pelvis that contains and nourishes the developing fetus during pregnancy. Also referred to as womb. See Womb below

Vagina: A tube-like structure surrounded by muscles leading from the uterus to the outside of the body.

Vulva: The external female genital area.

Womb: another word for uterus. See Uterus above