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Dictionary of Medical Terms 4th Ed

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Werner’s syndrome


feeding and breathing problems and rarely live more than two or three years.

Werner’s syndrome / w! nəz s ndrəυm/ noun an inherited disorder involving premature ageing, persistent hardening of the skin, underdevelopment of the sex organs and cataracts

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome / v! n kə kɔ səkɒf s ndrəυm/ noun a form of brain

damage caused by severe nutritional deficiencies in people with long-term alcoholism

Wernicke’s encephalopathy / v! n kəz en kefə lɒpəθi/ noun a condition caused by

lack of Vitamin B, which often affects alcoholics and in which the person is delirious, moves the eyes about rapidly, walks unsteadily and is subject to constant vomiting [Described 1875. After Karl Wernicke (1848–1905), Breslau psy-

chiatrist and neurologist.]

Wertheim’s operation / v! tha mz ɒpəre ʃ(ə)n/ noun a surgical operation to remove the uterus, the lymph nodes which are next to it and most of the vagina, the ovaries and the Fallopian tubes, as treatment for cancer of the uterus [Described 1900. After Ernst Wertheim

(1864–1920), Austrian gynaecologist.]

West Nile fever / west na l fi və/ noun a mosquito-borne viral infection which causes fever, pains, enlarged lymph nodes and sometimes inflammation of the brain

wet /wet/ adjective not dry, covered in liquid

He got wet waiting for the bus in the rain and caught a cold. The baby has nappy rash from wearing a wet nappy. verb to make the bed wet by urinating while asleep He is eight years old and he still wets his bed every night. wet beriberi / wet beri beri/ noun beriberi in which the body swells with oedema

wet burn /wet b! n/ noun same as scald wet dream /wet dri m/ noun same as noctur-

nal emission

wet dressing / wet dres ŋ/ noun com-


Wharton’s duct / wɔ t(ə)nz d"kt/ noun a duct which takes saliva into the mouth from the salivary glands under the lower jaw [After Thomas Wharton (1614–73), English physician and anatomist at St Thomas’s Hospital, London,


Wharton’s jelly / wɔ t(ə)nz d eli/ noun a jelly-like tissue in the umbilical cord

wheal /wi l/ same as weal

Wheelhouse’s operation / wi lhaυs zɒpəre ʃ(ə)n/ noun same as urethrotomy [Af-

ter Claudius Galen Wheelhouse (1826–1909), British surgeon]

wheeze /wi z/ noun a whistling noise in the bronchi The doctor listened to his wheezes.

verb to make a whistling sound when breathing When she has an attack of asthma, she wheezes and has difficulty in breathing.

wheezing / wi z ŋ/ noun whistling noises in the bronchi when breathing. Wheezing is often found in people with asthma and is also associated with bronchitis and heart disease. wheezy / wi zi/ adjective making a whistling sound when breathing She was quite wheezy

when she stopped running.

whiplash injury / w pl ʃ nd əri/ noun an injury to the vertebrae in the neck, caused when the head jerks backwards, often occurring in a car that is struck from behind

whiplash shake syndrome / w pl ʃ ʃe ks ndrəυm/ noun in young babies, a series of

internal head injuries caused by being shaken violently. They can result in brain damage leading to speech and learning disabilities, paralysis, seizures, blindness and hearing loss. They are often life-threatening.

Whipple’s disease / w p(ə)lz d zi z/ noun a disease in which someone has difficulty in absorbing nutrients and passes fat in the faeces, the joints are inflamed and the lymph glands enlarged [Described 1907. After George Hoyt Whipple (1878–1976), US pathologist. No-

bel prize for Pathology and Medicine 1934.]

Whipple’s operation / w p(ə)lz ɒpə re*

ʃ(ə)n/ noun same as pancreatectomy whipworm / w pw! m/ noun same as Trichuris

white /wa t/ adjective of a colour like snow or milk White patches developed on his skin. Her hair has turned quite white. (NOTE: whiter

– whitest) noun the main part of the eye which is white The whites of his eyes turned

yellow when he developed jaundice.

white blood cell / wa t bl"d sel/ noun a colourless blood cell which contains a nucleus but has no haemoglobin, is formed in bone marrow and creates antibodies. Abbr WBC. Also called leucocyte

white commissure / wa t kɒm sjυə/ noun part of the white matter in the spinal cord near

the central canal

white corpuscle / wa t kɔ p"s(ə)l/ noun same as white blood cell

white finger /wa t f ŋ&ə/ noun a condition in which a finger has a mottled discoloured appearance because its blood vessels are damaged. The thumb is usually not affected. Very severe cases can result in finger loss. It occurs most commonly in Raynaud’s disease. whitehead / wa thed/ noun a small white swelling formed when a sebaceous gland becomes blocked

white leg /wa t le&/ noun a condition which affects women after childbirth, in which a leg becomes pale and inflamed as a result of lymphatic obstruction. Also called milk leg, phlegmasia alba dolens

white matter / wa t m tə/ noun nerve tissue in the central nervous system which contains more myelin than grey matter


World Health Organization

white noise instrument / wa t nɔ z n strυmənt/ noun a small electronic device

worn in the ear. It combines sounds of many different frequencies. It is used to mask internal noise in the ear due to tinnitus.

whites /wa ts/ plural noun same as leucorrhoea (informal)

whitlow / w tləυ/ noun an inflammation caused by infection near the nail in the fleshy part of the tip of a finger. Also called felon WHO abbr World Health Organization whoop /wu p, hu p/ noun a loud noise made when inhaling by a person who has whooping


whooping cough / hu p ŋ kɒf/ noun an infectious disease caused by Bordetella pertussis affecting the bronchial tubes, common in children, and sometimes very serious. Also called pertussis

COMMENT: A person with whooping cough coughs very badly and makes a characteristic ‘whoop’ when he or she breathes in after a coughing fit. Whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, and is treated with antibiotics. Vaccination against whooping cough is given

to infants.

Widal reaction /vi dɑ l r kʃən/, Widal test /vi dɑ l test/ noun a test to detect typhoid fever. A sample of the person’s blood is put into a solution containing typhoid bacilli, or anti-typhoid serum is added to a sample of bacilli from the person’s faeces. If the bacilli agglutinate, i.e. form into groups, this indicates that the person has typhoid fever. [Described 1896. After Georges Fernand Isidore Widal (1862–1929), French physician and teacher.]

Willis / w l s/ circle of Willis

willpower / w l paυə/ noun the fact of having a strong will The patient showed the will-

power to start walking again unaided.

Wilms’ tumour / v lmz tju mə/ noun same as nephroblastoma [Described 1899. After Max Wilms (1867–1918), Professor of Surgery at

Leipzig, Basle and Heidelberg.]

Wilson’s disease / w lsənz d zi z/ noun a hereditary disease where copper deposits accumulate in the liver and the brain, causing cirrhosis. Also called hepatolenticular degeneration [Described 1912. After Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878–1937), British neurologist.]

wind /w nd/ noun 1. gas which forms in the digestive system and escapes through the anus

The baby is suffering from wind. Also called flatus 2. an uncomfortable feeling caused by the accumulation of gas in the upper digestive system He has pains in the stomach caused by wind. Also called flatulence to break wind to bring up gas from the stomach, or to

let gas escape from the anus

windburn / w ndb! n/ noun redness and inflammation of the skin caused by exposure to harsh wind

window / w ndəυ/ noun a small opening in the ear

windpipe / w ndpa p/ noun same as trachea wiring / wa ər ŋ/ noun 1. a network of wires

2.a neurological or physiological structure or process which controls a function in the body

3.the act of fixing a piece of bone in place using wires

wisdom tooth / w zdəm tu θ/ noun one of the four teeth in the back of the jaw which only appear at about the age of 20 and sometimes do not appear at all. Also called third molar witch hazel / w tʃ he z(ə)l/ noun a lotion made from the bark of a tree, used to check bleeding and harden inflamed tissue and bruises. Also called hamamelis

withdrawal /w ð drɔ əl/ noun 1. a loss of interest in having contact with other people, which leads to a person becoming isolated 2. a period during which a person who has been addicted to a drug stops taking it and experiences unpleasant symptoms

‘…she was in the early stages of physical withdrawal from heroin and showed classic symptoms: sweating, fever, sleeplessness and anxiety’ [Nursing Times]



/w ð drɔ əl

s mptəm/ noun an unpleasant physical condition, e.g. vomiting, headaches or fever, which occurs when someone stops taking an addictive drug

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome /wυlfpɑ k ns(ə)n wa t s ndrəυm/ noun a condi-

tion within the heart’s conducting tissue which makes the heart beat dangerously fast. It can be fatal.

womb /wu m/ noun same as uterus (NOTE: For other terms referring to the womb, see words beginning with hyster-, hystero-, metr-, metro-, uter-, utero-.)

women’s ward / w m nz wɔ d/, women’s hospital / w m nz hɒsp t(ə)l/ noun a ward or

hospital for female patients. well-woman clinic

Wood’s lamp / wυdz l mp/ noun an ultraviolet lamp which allows a doctor to see fluorescence , e.g. in the hair of someone who has a fungal infection [After Robert Williams Wood (1868–1955), US physicist]

woolsorter’s disease / wυlsɔ təz d zi z/ noun a form of anthrax which affects the lungs word blindness / w! d bla ndnəs/ noun same as alexia

work-related upper limb disorder / w! k r le t d "pə l m d s ɔ də/ same as repeti-

tive strain injury. Abbr WRULD.

World Health Organization / w! ld helθ ɔ &əna ze ʃ(ə)n/ noun an organisation, part of the United Nations, which aims to improve health in the world. Abbr WHO



worm /w! m/ noun a long thin animal with no legs or backbone, which can infest the human body, especially the intestines

wound /wu nd/ noun damage to external tissue which allows blood to escape He had a knife wound in his leg. The doctors sutured the wound in his chest. gunshot wound wound caused by a pellet or bullet from a gunverb to harm someone by making a hole in the tissue of the body She was wounded three times in the head.

wound dehiscence /wu nd di h s(ə)ns/ noun the splitting open of a surgical incision

wound healing / wu nd hi l ŋ/ noun the replacement of dead tissue with new tissue

WR abbr Wassermann reaction

wrench /rentʃ/ verb to injure part of the body by twisting it suddenly and forcibly

wrinkle / r ŋkəl/ noun a fold in the skin

wrinkled / r ŋkəld/ adjective covered with wrinkles

wrist /r st/ noun a joint between the hand and forearm He sprained his wrist and can’t play tennis tomorrow. See illustration at HAND in Supplement (NOTE: For other terms referring to

the wrist, see words beginning with carp-, car- po-.)

COMMENT: The wrist is formed of eight small bones in the hand which articulate with the bones in the forearm. The joint allows the hand to rotate and move downwards and sideways. The joint is easily fractured or sprained.

wrist drop / r st drɒp/ noun paralysis of the wrist muscles, caused by damage to the radial nerve in the upper arm, which causes the hand to hang limp

wrist joint / r st d ɔ nt/ noun a place where the wrist joins the arm

writer’s cramp / ra təz kr mp/ noun a painful spasm of the muscles in the forearm and hand which comes from writing too much

writhe /ra ð/ verb to writhe in pain to twist and turn because the pain is very severe

WRULD abbr work-related upper limb disorder

wry neck / ra nek/, wryneck noun same as torticollis

Wuchereria / vυkə r əriə/ noun a type of tiny nematode worm which infests the lymph system, causing elephantiasis


xanth- /z/ prefix same as xantho- (used before vowels)

xanthaemia /z n θi miə/ noun same as carotenaemia (NOTE: The US spelling is xanthemia.)

xanthelasma / z nθə l zmə/ noun the formation of little yellow fatty tumours on the eyelids

xanthine / z nθi n/ noun 1. an intermediate product in the breakdown of nucleic acids to uric acid, found in blood, body tissue and urine 2. a derivative of xanthine, e.g. caffeine or theophylline

xantho- /z nθəυ/ prefix yellow xanthochromia / z nθə krəυmiə/ noun yellow colour of the skin as in jaundice xanthoma /z n θəυmə/ noun a yellow fatty mass, often on the eyelids and hands, found in people with a high level of cholesterol in the blood (NOTE: The plural is xanthomata.) xanthomatosis / z nθəmə təυs s/ noun a condition in which several small masses of yellow fatty substance appear in the skin or some internal organs, caused by an excess of fat in the body

xanthopsia /z n θɒpsiə/ noun a disorder of the eyes, making everything appear yellow

xanthosis /z n θəυs s/ noun yellow colouring of the skin, caused by eating too much food containing carotene

X chromosome / eks krəυməsəυm/ noun a chromosome that determines sex. Compare Y chromosome. sex chromosome

xeno- /zenəυ/ prefix different

xenograft / zenə&rɑ ft/ noun tissue taken from an individual of one species and grafted on an individual of another species. Also called heterograft. Opposite homograft xenotransplantation / zenəυtr nsplɑ n te ʃ(ə)n/ noun the process of transplanting organs from one species to another, especially from animals to humans

xero- /z ərəυ/ prefix dry

xeroderma / z ərə d! mə/ noun a skin disorder where dry scales form on the skin

xerophthalmia / z ərɒf θ lmiə/ noun a condition of the eye, in which the cornea and conjunctiva become dry because of a lack of Vitamin A

xeroradiography / z ərəυ re di ɒ&rəfi/ noun an X-ray technique used in producing mammograms on selenium plates

xerosis /z rəυs s/ noun extreme dryness of skin or mucous membrane

xerostomia / z ərə stəυmiə/ noun dryness of the mouth, caused by lack of a saliva xiphi- /z f / prefix relating to the xiphoid proc-


xiphisternal plane / z f st! n(ə)l ple n/ noun an imaginary horizontal line across the middle of the chest at the point where the xiphoid process starts

xiphisternum / z f st! nəm/ noun same as

xiphoid process

xiphoid process / z fɔ d prəυses/, xiphoid cartilage / z fɔ d kɑ t l d / noun the bottom part of the breastbone which is cartilage in young people but becomes bone by middle age. Also called ensiform cartilage, xiphisternum

X-linked / eks l ŋkt/ adjective relating to the genes situated on the X chromosome

X-linked disease / eks l ŋkt d zi z/ noun a genetic disorder caused by a mutation on the X chromosome which only appears in males, e.g. one form of haemophilia

X-ray / eks re /, x-ray noun 1. a ray with a very short wavelength, which is invisible, but can go through soft tissue and register as a photograph on a film. X-rays are used in diagnosis in radiography, and in treating disease by radiotherapy. The X-ray examination showed the presence of a tumour in the colon.

2. a photograph taken using X-rays The dentist took some X-rays of the patient’s teeth. He pinned the X-rays to the light screen. 3. an examination in which X-ray photographs are taken All the staff had to have chest X-rays.

verb to take an X-ray photograph of a patient

There are six patients waiting to be X-rayed.

COMMENT: Because X-rays go through soft tissue, it is sometimes necessary to make inter-

X-ray imaging


nal organs opaque so that they will show up on the film. In the case of stomach X-rays, people take a barium meal before being photographed (contrast radiography); in other cases, such as kidney X-rays, radioactive substances are injected into the bloodstream or into the organ itself. X-rays are used not only in radiography for diagnosis but as a treatment in radiotherapy as rapidly dividing cells such as cancer cells are most affected. Excessive exposure to X-rays, either as a person being treated, or as a radiographer, can cause radiation sickness.

X-ray imaging / eks re m d ŋ/ noun the process of showing X-ray pictures of the inside of part of the body on a screen

X-ray photograph / eks re fəυtə&rɑ f/ noun a picture produced by exposing sensitive film to X-rays He was examining the X-ray photographs of the patient’s chest.

X-ray screening / eks re skri n ŋ/ noun a method of gathering information about the

body by taking images using X-rays. It is carried out by a radiographer or radiologist.

Xylocaine / za ləke n/ a trade name for a preparation of lignocaine

xylometazoline hydrochloride / za ləυ mə t zəli n ha drə klɔ ra d/, xylometazoline / za ləυmə t zəli n/ noun a drug which

helps to narrow blood vessels, used in the treatment of colds and sinusitis

xylose / za ləυz/ noun pentose which has not been metabolised

XYY syndrome / eks wa wa s ndrəυm/ noun an extremely rare condition in males in which they have two Y chromosomes instead of one. They grow faster than normal, and their final height is approximately 7cm above average. Many experience severe acne during adolescence.


yawn /jɔ n/ noun a reflex action when tired or sleepy, in which the mouth is opened wide and after a deep intake of air, the breath exhaled slowly His yawns made everyone feel sleepy. verb to open the mouth wide and breathe in deeply and then breathe out slowly yawning / jɔ n ŋ/ noun the act of opening the mouth wide without conscious control and slowly releasing a deep breath, usually a sign of tiredness or boredom

yaws /jɔ z/ noun a tropical disease caused by the spirochaete Treponema pertenue. Symptoms include fever with raspberry-like swellings on the skin, followed in later stages by bone malformation. Also called framboesia,

pian. treponematosis

Y chromosome / wa krəυməsəυm/ noun a chromosome that determines sex, it is carried by males and is shorter than an X chromosome. Compare X chromosome. sex chromosome

yeast /ji st/ noun a fungus which is used in the fermentation of alcohol and in making

bread. It is a good source of Vitamin B. yellow / jeləυ/ adjective of a colour like that

of the sun or of gold His skin turned yellow when he had hepatitis. The whites of the eyes become yellow as a symptom of jaundice.

noun a colour like that of the sun or of gold yellow atrophy / jeləυ trəfi/ noun an old

name for severe damage to the liver

yellow elastic fibrocartilage / jeləυl st k fa brəυ kɑ t l d / noun flexible car-

tilage, e.g. in the ear and epiglottis

yellow fever / jeləυ fi və/ noun an infectious disease, occurring especially in Africa and South America, caused by an arbovirus carried by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. It affects the liver and causes jaundice. There is no known cure and it can be fatal, but vaccination can prevent it.

yellow fibre / jeləυ fa bə/ noun same as elastic fibre

yellow marrow noun marrow

yellow spot / jeləυ spɒt/ noun same as macula lutea

Yersinia pestis /j! s niə pest s/ noun a bacterium which causes plague

yin and yang / j n ənd j ŋ/ noun the two opposite and complementary principles of Chinese philosophy which are thought to exist in varying proportions in all things. They are sometimes thought of as femininity and masculinity.

yoga / jəυ&ə/ noun 1. a Hindu discipline which promotes spiritual unity with a Supreme Being through a system of postures and rituals 2. any one of dozens of systems and methods derived from or based on Hindu yoga. Many include breathing exercises and postures which are thought to aid health.

yolk sac / jəυk s k/ noun same as vitelline sac

yuppie flu / j"pi flu / noun myalgic encephalomyelitis (informal)


Zadik’s operation / ze d ks ɒpə re ʃ(ə)n/ noun a surgical operation to remove the whole of an ingrowing toenail

Zantac / z nt k/ a trade name for ranitidine zidovudine /z dəυvjυdi n/ noun azidothy-

midine or AZT, a drug used in the treatment of AIDS, which helps to slow the progress of the disease

Zimmer frame / z mə fre m/ a trademark for a metal frame used by people who have difficulty in walking She managed to walk some steps with a Zimmer frame. walking frame zinc /z ŋk/ noun a white metallic trace ele-

ment (NOTE: The chemical symbol is Zn.)

zinc ointment /z ŋk ɔ ntmənt/ noun a soothing ointment made of zinc oxide and oil zinc oxide /z ŋk ɒksa d/ noun a compound of zinc and oxygen, which forms a soft white soothing powder used in creams and lotions

(NOTE: Its chemical formula is ZnO.)

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome / zɒl nd ər el s(ə)n s ndrəυm/ noun a condition in

which tumours are formed in the islet cells of the pancreas together with peptic ulcers [Described 1955. After Robert Milton Zollinger (b. 1903), Professor of Surgery at Ohio State University, USA; Edwin H. Ellison (1918–70), Associate Professor of Surgery at Ohio State Univer-

sity, USA.]

zona / zəυnə/ noun 1. same as herpes zoster

2. a zone or area

zona pellucida / zəυnə p lu s də/ noun a

membrane which forms around an ovum zone /zəυn/ noun an area of the body zonula / zɒnjυlə/, zonule / zɒnju l/ noun a

small area of the body

zonule of Zinn / zɒnju l əv z n/ noun a sus-

pensory ligament of the lens of the eye zonulolysis / zɒnju lɒləs s/ noun the re-

moval of a zonule by dissolving it

zoo- /zəυ/ prefix relating to animals

zoonosis / zəυɒ nəυs s/ noun a disease which a human can catch from an animal

(NOTE: The plural is zoonoses.) zoster / zɒstə/ herpes zoster

Z-plasty / zed pl sti/ noun a technique used in plastic surgery. A deep Z-shaped incision is made to relieve tension in the area of a scar, or to change the direction of a scar.

zygoma /za &əυmə/ noun same as zygomatic arch (NOTE: The plural is zygomata.)

zygomatic / za &ə m t k/ adjective referring to the zygomatic arch

zygomatic arch / za &əm t k ɑ tʃ/ noun the ridge of bone across the temporal bone, running between the ear and the bottom of the eye socket. Also called zygoma

zygomatic bone / za &əm t k bəυn/ noun a bone which forms the prominent part of the cheek and the lower part of the eye socket. Also called cheekbone, malar bone zygomatic process / za &əm t k prəυs* es/ noun one of the bony projections which form the zygomatic arch

zygomycosis / za &əma kəυs s/ noun a disease caused by a fungus which infests the blood vessels in the lungs

zygote / za &əυt/ noun a fertilised ovum, the first stage of development of an embryo

zym- /za m/ prefix (used before vowels) 1. enzymes 2. fermentation

zymogen / za məd en/ noun same as proenzyme

zymosis /za məυs s/ noun same as fermentation

zymotic /za mɒt k/ adjective referring to zymosis


Anatomical Terms

The body is always described as if standing upright with the palms of the hands facing forward. There is only one central vertical plane, termed the median or sagittal plane, and this passes through the body from front to back. Planes parallel to this on either side are parasagittal or paramedian planes. Vertical planes at right angles to the median are called coronal planes. The term horizontal (or transverse) plane speaks for itself. Two specific horizontal planes are (a) the transpyloric, midway between the suprasternal notch and the symphysis pubis, and (b) the transtubercular or intertubercular plane, which passes through the tubercles of the iliac crests. Many other planes are named from the structures they pass through.

Views of the body from some different points are shown on the diagram; a view of the body from above is called the superior aspect, and that from below is the inferior aspect.

Cephalic means toward the head; caudal refers to positions (or in a direction) towards the tail. Proximal and distal refer to positions respectively closer to and further from the centre of the body in any direction, while lateral and medial relate more specifically to relative sideways positions, and also refer to movements. Ventral refers to the abdomen, front or anterior, while dorsal relates to the back of a part or organ. The hand has a dorsal and a palmar surface, and the foot a dorsal and a plantar surface.

Note that flexion of the thigh moves it forward while flexion of the leg moves it backwards; the movements of extension are similarly reversed. Movement and rotation of limbs can be medial, which is with the front moving towards the centre line, or lateral, which is in the opposite direction. Specific terms for limb movements are adduction, towards the centre line, and abduction, which is away from the centre line. Other specific terms are supination and pronation for the hand, and inversion and eversion for the foot.

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