Thesaurus of medicine

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Plain Language Thesaurus For Health Communications

This Plain Language Thesaurus has been put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Marketing with the aim of helping make health information clear and easy to understand. This thesaurus offers plain language equivalents to medical terms, phrases, and references that we often use. The technical terms found in health information can be confusing. This thesaurus is a tool to help you find words that people may understand better. While the plain language choices given here may not have the specific nuances of meaning that technical terms have, they offer the possibility for better understanding by your audience. With plain language equivalents, it is more important to be understood than to be medically precise. Precise medical terminology is vital when communicating to those with a technical background. But the public often stumbles over such terms and misunderstands their meaning. This is especially a concern for people who do not speak English as their first language and those without strong reading skills. Reaching your audience–on their terms–is the main goal of plain language.

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# - A

  • abscess: sore, wound, infection
  • abdomen: stomach, stomach area, belly, tummy, abdominal
  • ability: skill, are able, can
  • abolish: end, do away with, get rid of
  • abrasion: cut, scratch, scrape
  • absenteeism: missing work or school, how often you miss work or school
  • absorption: take in, soak up
  • accelerate: hurry, speed up, make worse, make more severe
  • accessible: available, on hand, understandable, usable (handicapped)
  • accommodate: house, let stay with, give shelter, adjust, adapt
  • accompany: go with, take with (medicine)
  • accomplish: do, finish
  • accumulate: add up, gather, collect
  • accurate: true, right, correct
  • acellular vaccine: a vaccine that only contains part of the virus
  • Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome-AIDS: a disease that makes it hard for your body to fight diseases
  • active immunity: being able to fight off a specific disease once you have had that disease
  • acute: sudden start, short term, quick
  • additional: extra, added, more
  • adequate: enough, the right amount
  • adhere: stick, follow
  • adjacent: beside, next to, near, touching
  • adjuvant: something added to a vaccine to make it work better
  • administer: give, manage, take care of
  • adverse event: something bad that happens, bad reaction, unexpected or unwanted effects
  • adverse health effect: bad side effect, bad reaction
  • adverse: bad, dangerous, hurtful, harmful
  • advise: tell, warn, say
  • advocacy: support, fighting on behalf of, arguing for support
  • advocate: fight for, support, support person
  • aerobic exercise: exercise; slow and steady exercise like walking, running, biking, swimming, etc.; exercise that helps your heart stay healthy and work better; exercise that gets your heart pumping; exercise that makes you breath faster
  • aerobic: needs oxygen
  • aerosol: spray, mist
  • agency: others, other groups, partner
  • aggravate: make worse, harm, anger, hurt
  • aggregate: taken together, looked at all together, total, sum, combined
  • aggressive: pushy, dangerous, gets worse fast, fast growing
  • airways: windpipe, breathing, tubes that take air in from the nose and mouth to the lungs, pathway from nose and mouth to lungs, air tubes
  • alienate: push away, put by itself, turn away from, set apart
  • allergen: something like pollen that causes the body to react by sneezing or forming a rash; something that causes an allergic reaction
  • allergic: the body’s reaction to something, like pollen, resulting in sneezing, sniffling, a rash, etc.
  • allergic reaction: bad reaction, possibly deadly reaction, allergy, problem
  • allergist: allergy doctor
  • allergy: reaction, itch, rash, hives, breathing problem
  • alleviate: lessen, ease, soften, improve, make better
  • alopecia: hair loss, balding, loss of hair
  • alteration: change, shift, adjustment
  • alternate: take turns, one and then the other, rotate
  • alternative: option, another choice, other, different way, another option, different, another way
  • alveoli: tiny air sacs in the lungs
  • amalgam or amalgam fillings: silver-colored fillings, mixture of mercury, silver, tin, copper and sometimes other metals used to fill cavities in teeth
  • amalgamate: put together, join, combine, unite
  • ambulate: walk, move around
  • ambulatory: can walk, mobile, able to move about, walking, able to walk
  • ameliorate: make better, improve, lessen, ease
  • amend: change, change later on, adjust, fix
  • amnesia: forgetfulness, memory loss, not being able to remember
  • amniocentesis: test for a baby’s health before it’s born
  • amniotic fluid: water, fluid surrounding unborn baby in womb
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Lou Gehrig's Disease, motor neuron disease
  • anaerobic exercise: exercise, fast-burst exercise, muscle-building exercise like weight lifting
  • anaerobic: needs lack of oxygen, without oxygen
  • analgesic: pain reliever, aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol
  • anaphylaxis: shock, a sudden and severe allergic reaction, stop breathing, poisoning, life threatening allergic reaction
  • anemia: tired, low iron, a low blood count
  • anesthesia: numbing drug, drug that puts you to sleep or puts you under
  • angina: chest pain
  • annual: yearly, every year, once every year, once a year, each year
  • annually: yearly, every year, once every year, once a year, each year
  • anomaly: defect, change, difference, unusual, exception
  • anorexia: eating disorder, too thin, not hungry
  • anterior teeth: front teeth
  • antibiotic: drug, medicine, drug that fights bacteria, infection-fighting medicine, medicine that fights infection
  • antibody: your body’s way to fight off infections, infection-fighting cells, cells that fight infection
  • antifungal agent: drug to treat fungus infections
  • antigen: germ, bacteria, virus, poison, something in your body that your body tries to fight off, something that helps your body fight disease
  • anti-inflammatory: a drug to reduce swelling, something that reduces swelling and pain, aspirin, cortisone, a drug that brings down the swelling; drug that prevents swelling
  • antiphospholipid: antibody test a test to see if you’re at risk for blood clots
  • antiviral: medicine, drug that fights viruses
  • anti-virus medicine: medicine, drug that fight viruses like the flu
  • anxiety: fear, worry
  • appellant: name, name of the person, you, person making an appeal
  • aphasic: not able to talk or understand words
  • applicant: your name, name of the person, person who is applying
  • apply: use, put on, rub onto, sign up for
  • appreciate: thank, be grateful
  • appropriate: take, take over, a good fit, proper, right
  • approximate: about, guess, around, near, close, estimate, bring together
  • aptitude: ability, skill, gift, talent
  • aqueous: watery
  • arguably: maybe, perhaps, possibly, could be
  • arrhythmia: irregular heartbeat, skipped heartbeat, heart problem
  • arthralgia: pain, pain in your joints
  • arthritis: pain in joints; disease of the joints that causes swelling, pain, heat, and a sense of stiffness
  • ascertain: find, find out, learn, make certain
  • asphyxiate: choke, smother, suffocate
  • aspiration: choke, breathe in a fluid, take out fluid or tissue to test
  • assess: review, sum up, evaluate, to determine value, find
  • assist: help, aid
  • association: group, relation, organization
  • asthma: disease, breathing disease; long term disease of swelling of the airways of the lungs; lung disease where you have trouble breathing; disease of lungs or respiratory system
  • asymptomatic infection: when you’re sick, but you don’t feel bad, no symptoms
  • asymptomatic: someone who is sick but does not feel or look sick
  • at the present time: now, right now
  • ataxic: not able to coordinate movement
  • atherosclerosis: hardening of the arteries, clogged blood vessels
  • attack: violent start, suddenly overcome by a disease, begin to harm
  • attempt: try, effort
  • attenuated vaccine: vaccine, vaccine that has a weakened form of the virus in it
  • attire: clothes, clothing, to dress, wear
  • authentic: original, real, true, actual
  • authority: trusted source, trusted person, official, power
  • authorize: allow, approve, give the power to, let
  • autism: brain disorder, illness that makes it hard for someone to talk to other people
  • autoimmune disease: disease that makes your body attack itself
  • autoimmunity: body fighting itself, rejecting problem with your immune system
  • autonomous: free, by itself, independent
  • avail: help, aid
  • available: on hand, at hand, ready, nearby, handy, ready
  • avian flu: bird flu
  • avoid: do not, shun
  • axilla: armpit

B

  • bacteria: germ
  • become more familiar: learn more about...
  • benign: harmless
  • bereavement: grief after death, loss, sadness, mourning
  • beverage: drink, fluids, liquids
  • biannual: twice a year, two times every year
  • biennial: lasting two years, happening every other year, every two years
  • bilateral: with both sides considered, two-sided, when both sides get a say, even, balanced; on both sides
  • biological agent: disease, poison, germs, bacteria, viruses, fungi
  • biofilms (plaque): sticky film with germs on teeth
  • biopsy: take tissue (usually for testing)
  • bioterrorism: spreading virus or disease to cause fear or hurt
  • biota: plants and animals
  • BMI: body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, a measure of body fat
  • bona fide: real, true
  • bone density test: bone strength test, a test of how solid and how strong your bones are; test for osteoporosis, xray test for brittle bones
  • bone marrow: area (or the space) inside your bones where blood cells are made
  • booster shot: shot you get months or years after your vaccine shot, shot to keep you safe from disease
  • brachial neuritis: swelling of the nerves in your arms
  • bradycardia: slow heartbeat
  • breakthrough infection: getting a disease even though you’ve been protected against it
  • breastfeeding: nursing/feeding a baby with milk from the breast
  • breech birth: baby born feet or rear-end first
  • bronchial tubes: the tubes letting air in and out of the lungs
  • bronchodilator: medicine, drug that helps you breathe easier
  • bruxism: clinching and/or grinding teeth
  • buccal: side of mouth, inside cheek
  • bursitis: swollen, painful joints, disease that causes joint pain
  • by means of: by, using, with
  • by which time: by then; when

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C

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D

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E

F

  • facilitate: make easier, help
  • factor: cause, reason
  • failed to: did not
  • family history: health information about your close relatives
  • fallacy: error, myth, not true
  • fast: go without any food or drink, not eat or drink anything
  • fatigue: tired, weak feeling of the whole body, feeling tired all over
  • feasible: possible, doable, workable, can be done, can do
  • febrile: caused by a fever, feverish
  • fertility: ability to have a baby
  • fetus: unborn baby (12 weeks to birth)
  • finalize: complete, end, finish, settle
  • flare: a period of time when symptoms of a disease are worse, when your disease hurts more than normal
  • flexible: moving easily, stretch easily, bend and stretch without hurting; bendable, able to bend
  • fluctuate: change, rise and fall, go back and forth from high to low, not steady
  • following: after
  • fracture: break
  • frequently: often, commonly, normally, regularly, many times
  • fundamental: basic, real

G

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H

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I

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J

  • jaundice: skin and eyes turn yellow
  • joint: where bones come together, bone connection  

K

  • kidney: organ that filters blood

L

M

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N

 

O

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P

Q

  • qualified: suited, capable; has the education to perform, license to perform
  • quarantine: isolate, staying away from other people, staying home by yourself

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R

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S

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T

U

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V

W

  • waning immunity: not immune any more; more likel to get sick; lost your disease resistance
  • warning sign: sign of trouble; problem; alert
  • waterfowl: water birds; birds that live on water; ducks, geese, and swans
  • wheeze: breathing problem, difficulty breathing; gasp; gag; pant
  • whereas: while, but
  • white spot lesion: white spot on tooth, beginning decay
  • whooping cough: disease of the lungs that is very easily spread to others
  • withhold: deny, keep from, hold back, refuse
  • withstand: take, bear, resist
  • witness: see, note, observe

X

  • x-ray: picture of your bones; picture of your insides

Y

Z

  • zoonoses: diseases that people can get from animals; diseases that are passed between animals and people

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