Commonly Confused Suffixes in Medical Terminology

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  • 0:01 Commonly Confused Suffixes
  • 0:35 The -TOMY Suffixes
  • 2:31 -GRAM, -GRAPH & -GRAPHY
  • 4:26 The Double RR Suffixes
  • 6:52 The -ST Suffixes
  • 8:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson will look at and distinguish the suffixes in medical terminology that are often confused. We will use examples to help you gain an understanding of the meaning and proper use of the suffixes.

Commonly Confused Suffixes

There are many different suffixes that are used in medical terminology. Some contain similar letters and have similar meanings. This can often lead to confusion when creating or interpreting medical terms.

Healthcare professionals have to pay close attention when using medical suffixes in order to make sure the correct information is being communicated. Accuracy is an absolute must when distinguishing suffixes. We're going to clarify some of the most commonly confused medical suffixes.

The -Tomy Suffixes

Three suffixes exist that contain '-tomy' in them. Let's explore their differences by attaching each of them to the word root 'colo,' referring to the colon.

The first one of these suffixes is -tomy, which means 'cutting into' or 'surgical incision into.' This refers to a simple incision that is made into a particular organ or area of the body. Using our example, the term would be 'colotomy,' meaning 'cutting into the colon.'

The next of these suffixes is -stomy, which means 'creation of an opening.' This suffix is used to describe when a new opening has to be made into an organ of the body. For our example, the term is 'colostomy,' meaning 'creation of an opening into the colon.' The result of this would be an opening on the outside of the body leading into the colon.

The last of these suffixes is -ectomy, which means 'surgical removal.' It is used when describing that something should be removed from the body by surgery. 'Colectomy' is the term we end up with from our example. Colectomy means 'surgical removal of the colon.'

It is clear to see that the spelling is similar for these suffixes, but the meanings are quite different. With '-tomy,' you are simply 'cutting into' an organ. With '-stomy,' you are 'creating an opening' into the organ. With '-ectomy,' you are 'surgically removing' the organ. I would imagine you would probably want the surgeon to pay close attention to not confuse these if you are going in for any of these procedures. Could you imagine waking up from surgery to find that they removed something that just needed a new opening?

-Gram, -Graph, and -Graphy

Not only do our next set of suffixes look similar, but their meanings are very closely related as well.

So, you need to explain that someone needs to record a record using an instrument to record. Now, we aren't talking about your favorite group making a recording. We are talking about a recording in the medical field. The suffixes to explain this can be confusing until you look closer at them like we are going to now. We will use 'electrocardi,' meaning 'electrical activity of the heart,' with each of these suffixes.

The suffix -graphy means 'to record' or 'take a picture.' You will use this suffix when describing the act of recording or taking the picture. Putting this with our example term gives us 'electrocardiography,' meaning 'to record the electrical activity of the heart.'

After you go through the process of recording or taking a picture, a physical printout and/or computer record results. To describe this, you would use the suffix -gram, meaning 'record' or 'picture.' For example, 'electrocardiogram' means 'the record of electrical activity of the heart.'

The last of these suffixes dealing with records and recording is -graph which is the 'instrument used to record or take a picture.' For instance, the electrocardiograph is the instrument used to record the electrical activity of the heart. The distinction with this suffix is that it refers to the machine that will do the recording.

Now, it should be easier to see that the '-graph' is the 'instrument used to record,' '-graphy' is recording or 'to record,' and '-gram' is the result of the recording or the 'record.'

The Double RR Suffixes

There are about six of the 'rr' suffixes. Most of them look similar and have similar meanings. We are going to look at the ones with the same meanings first.

The suffixes -rrhea and -rrhoea both mean 'flowing' or 'discharge.' They are used interchangeably to describe when any of the body's fluids are flowing out of or being discharged from the body.

You may have thought about one term that uses the suffix -rrhea already. Ever had diarrhea? Of course, you have! And if you haven't, then you are among a small, very lucky group of people who haven't experienced this very uncomfortable event. 'Diarrhea' describes the 'flowing of feces' out of the body.

Blood is one of the most abundant bodily fluids. There's a separate suffix that is used to describe when it is flowing too fast. -rrhagia is the suffix that means 'rapid flowing of blood.' This refers to when the blood is flowing rapidly to the outside of the body through a cut or wound. The full term you will see is 'hemorrhagia,' meaning 'rapidly flowing blood.'

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