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Medical prefix: A prefix employed in medical terminology.

• kerato-: Kerato- is a confusing since it can refer to the cornea

Medical words are often put together, cobbled from two or more building (as in keratitis and keratocornea) or to "horny" tissue (as in
blocks. Among these building blocks are the prefixes. keratin and keratosis).

Examples of prefixes used in medicine include: • leuko-: Prefix meaning white from the Greek "leukos", white.
• a-: Prefix much employed in the health sciences indicating As in leukocyte, a white cell (in the blood). Leuko- and leuco-
"not, without, -less" as, for examples, in alexia (not read), are the same prefix, just different spellings. A leukocyte = a
aphagia (not eat), aphonia (not voice, voiceless). The "a-" leucocyte. And leucemia = leukemia, a malignant disease of the
usually becomes "an-" before a vowel as, for example, in white blood cells.
anemia (without blood), anotia (no ear), anoxia (no oxygen).
The prefix "a-" comes from the Greek meaning "not." • levo-: From the Latin "laevus" meaning on the left side. For
example, a molecule that shows levorotation is turning or
• ab-: Prefix from the Latin meaning "from, away from, off" as in twisting to the left. The opposition of levo- is dextro- (from the
abduction (movement of a limb away from the midline of the Latin "dexter" meaning on the right side) so the opposite of
body), ablate (carry or cut away), abnormal (away from levorotation is dextrorotation.
normal), absorb (to suck away). "Abs" in the plural is slang for
the abdominal muscles. • litho-: Prefix meaning stone. A lithotomy is an operation to
remove a stone. Lithotripsy involves crushing a stone. The
• ad-: Latin prefix meaning "toward" and "in the direction of" stone may be in the gallbladder or in the urinary tract.
(among other things), As, for example, in adduction (movement
of a limb toward the midline of the body), adrenal (toward the • macro-: From the Greek "makros" meaning large or long.
kidney). Terms with "macro-" include macrocyte (large cell),
macroglossia (large tongue), macroscopic (visible with the
• alb-: Prefix from the Latin root for the color white, "albus." As naked eye), and macrosomia (big body). The opposite of
in albino and albinism. The term "albino" was first applied by "macro-" is "micro-."
the Portuguese to "white" people they encountered in West
Africa. Those "white" people probably had partial or complete • mega-: From the Greek "megas", great or big and means
albinism, an inherited lack of pigment in the skin, hair, and abnormally large. Megalocephaly is too large a head.
eyes. Megacardia is too large a heart. Megacolon is too large a colon.

• colpo-: A combining form usually used as a prefix from the • melan-: Prefix meaning dark or black. It comes from the Greek
Greek "kolpos" meaning a fold, cleft, or hollow, often in "melas", black. Examples of terms containing melan- include
reference to the vagina. Words incorporating colpo- include melanin (dark pigment), melanocytes (cells that make melanin),
colposcopy (examination of the vagina and cervix with a and melanoma (a tumor arising in melanocytes).
colposcope) and colpotomy (incision of the vagina).
• micro-: From the Greek "mikros" meaning small. Examples of
• dextro-: From the Latin "dexter" meaning on the right side. For terms involving micro- include microcephaly (small head),
example, a molecule that shows dextrorotation is turning or micropenis, microphallus, microscope, etc. The opposite of
twisting to the right. The opposition of dextro- is levo- (from "micro-" is of "macro-."
the Latin "laevus" meaning on the left side) so the opposite of
dextrorotation is levorotation. • neo-: New. From the Greek "neos", new, young, fresh, recent.
Examples of terms starting with "neo-" include neonatal and
• dia-: Prefix taken straight from the Greek meaning through, neonate (newborn), neoplasia and neoplasm (new growth =
throughout, completely as in diagnosis and dialysis. tumor), etc.

• entero-: Combining form pointing to the intestine (the gut). • oligo-: Means just a few, scanty. From the Greek "oligos" that
"Entero-" comes from the Greek word "enteron" for intestine, likewise means few, scanty. Appears in oligodactyly (few
related to the Greek "enteros" meaning "within." What went fingers), oligohydramnios (too little amniotic fluid) and
into the intestine was within the body. oligospermia (too few sperm).

• hetero-: Combining form from the Greek "heteros" meaning • onycho-: Having to do with the nails. Medical terms involving
different. The opposite is homo- which comes from the Greek "onycho-" include onychodystrophy (abnormal growth and
"homos" meaning same. For example, heterogeneous and development of nails), onychomycosis (fungal infection of the
homogeneous, heterosexual and homosexual, etc. nails), and onychoosteodysplasia (malformation of bones and
• homo-: Combining form from the Greek "homos" meaning nails).
"same." The opposite is hetero- from the Greek "heteros"
meaning "different." For example, there is heterogeneous and • osteo-: Combining form meaning bone. From the Greek
homogeneous, heterosexual and homosexual, etc. "osteon", bone. Appears in osteoarthritis, osteogenesis
(building of bone), osteomyelitis (inflammation of bone and
• hyper-: Means high, beyond, excessive, above normal. For marrow), osteopetrosis (stonelike bone), osteoporosis,
example, hypercalcemia is high calcium in the blood and osteosarcoma, etc.
hypersensitivity is oversensitivity. The opposite of hyper- is
hypo-. • oto-: Combining form meaning ear. From the Greek "otos"
pertaining to the ear. Appears for example in otitis
• hypo-: Prefix meaning low, under, beneath, down, below (inflammation of the ear), otolaryngologist (an ENT doctor),
normal. For example, hypocalcemia is low calcium in the blood otoscope (a device for looking in the ear), etc.
and hyposensitivity is undersensitivity. The opposite of hypo-
is hyper-. • patho-: Derived from the Greek "pathos" meaning "suffering or
disease." Patho- serves as a prefix for many terms including
• iatr-: Prefix relating to a physician or medicine. From the Greek pathogen (disease agent), pathogenesis (development of
word "iatros" meaning physician (healer). As in iatrogenic, disease), pathology (study of disease), etc. The corresponding
generated by physicians, due to the activity of doctors. suffix is -pathy.
• phlebo-: Means vein. From the Greek "phleps", vein, which
came from the root "phlein", to gush or overflow. Appears in
phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), phlebotomist (a person
who draws blood from veins), and phlebotomy (a

• pneumo-: Combining form pertaining to breathing, respiration,

the lungs, pneumonia, or air. "Pneumo-" is derived from the
Greek "pneuma" meaning wind, air, or breath. In French, a
"pneu" is a tire (so called because it contains air).

• poly-: From the Greek "polys", many. The prefix "poly-"

appears in many medical terms including polyarteritis,
polycystic, polyp, etc. Poly is short for polymorphonuclear
leukocyte (a type of white blood cell).

• pro-: A combining form (from both Greek and Latin) with

many meanings including "before, in front of, preceding, on
behalf of, in place of, and the same as." Used as a word, pro of
course means professional and, in medicine, it is short for

• quasi-: Prefix meaning seemingly. As, for example, in

quasidominant, seemingly dominant.

• toc-: From the Greek word "tokos" meaning childbirth, we have

toc-, toco-, tok-, and toko- as combining forms, all referring to
labor or childbirth. A tocolytic agent inhibits the uterine

• trans-: From the Latin meaning "across, over, or beyond."

Medical terms containing "trans- " are many: transfusion,
transplant, transurethral, transvaginal, etc.