Commonly Confused Word Roots in Medical Terminology

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  • 0:02 Confusing Medical Word Roots
  • 0:43 Cephal/o. Cerebr/o, Cerebell/o
  • 1:35 Cyst/o, Cyt/o
  • 2:31 My/o, Myc/o, Myel/o
  • 3:41 Pyel/o, Py/o, Pyr/o
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Adrianne Baron

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

We are going to look at some of the most common word roots that are often confused in medical terminology. We will look at how they are used and some common examples.

Confusing Medical Word Roots

Medical terminology can be a very overwhelming language to learn. This is especially true once you see how closely spelled - and in some cases, pronounced - some of the word roots are.

It is imperative that close attention is paid when using medical terminology in order to be sure that the desired information is communicated. Let's spend a little time making sure we understand the differences between some commonly confused medical word roots. With few exceptions, we will use various suffixes that mean 'pertaining to' as we explore these word roots in order to help distinguish the meanings easier.

Cephal/o, Cerebr/o, Cerebell/o

Our first set of terms deals with the head and that thing you are using right now. The brain!

The word root cephal/o means 'head.' A term using this word root is 'cephalic,' meaning 'pertaining to the head.'

Cerebr/o is the word root for 'cerebrum,' which is the largest part of the brain. The most common term using this word root is 'cerebral,' meaning 'pertaining to the cerebrum.' There are times when this word root is used for the brain as a whole, since it is the largest part of the brain.

The word root cerebell/o refers to the 'cerebellum' of the brain, which is the back part of the brain. The term 'cerebellic' means 'pertaining to the cerebellum.'

Cyst/o, Cyt/o

Our next two word roots look and sound similar but are extremely different.

Cyst/o is the word root for 'urinary bladder,' 'cyst' or 'sac of fluid.' 'Cystic' is a common medical term that can mean 'pertaining to the urinary bladder' or 'pertaining to cysts.' It is usually seen in the names of diseases, like in cystic fibrosis.

On the other hand, cyt/o is the word root for 'cell.' This word root is seen in terms that describe different cells in the body, such as 'erythrocytes' and 'melanocytes,' meaning 'red blood cells' and 'black pigment cells,' respectively.

Notice that cyt/o and cyst/o differ only by the letter 's.' This also causes their pronunciations to be close as well.

My/o, Myc/o, Myel/o

The next three word roots differ by more than one letter, but they are close enough that they tend to still be a source of confusion when interpreting medical terms.

My/o means muscle, and it is usually attached to other word roots to describe different muscles of the body. For instance, you may see 'myocardium' or 'myometrium,' which mean 'heart muscle' and 'muscle of the uterus,' respectively.

The word root myc/o refers to 'fungus.' You are likely to see this in the term 'mycosis,' which is the term used to describe any 'fungal infection,' such as athlete's foot.

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