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I Have WHAT?

Ouch. I've just had the most painful case of Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia ever!

I took a huge gulp of icy-cold tea, and it gave me what we laypeople call brain freeze.

Today's blog is not about brain freeze, however; we're looking at Latin and Greek medical terms for common health conditions.

The idea came from a creative p.r. person looking to promote the new-ish health-info search engine (which, by the way, is worth checking out). She sent me a short list of such terms, along with their definitions, and invited me to interview the site's staff physician, Steven Chang.

I love it when people send me interesting ideas. (That includes you, readers!) So I figured I'd run a list of these terms, just for fun.

But then I got to thinking: Why do doctors need their own special language to talk about these things? It's as if they're in a private club with a secret handshake. Shouldn't they be working toward communicating more clearly with patients and not clinging to jargon?

Turns out there's good reason for them to stick with the Latin. Dr. Chang explained to me that medical students are taught Latin terms and other shortcuts that make it easier for them to communicate clearly, directly and efficiently with one another, to the patient's ultimate benefit.

Take that brain freeze term, for instance. Sphenopalatine = a region on the top of the mouth; ganglio = a junction of nerves; and neuralgia = pain. So: pain in junction of nerves at the top of the mouth.

Shorter and sweeter than "brain freeze," though? I'm not seeing it.

But doctor-speak does have its utility and extends beyond funky terms for common conditions. Chang explains that in hospital settings in particular, medical shorthand that's taught in med school helps doctors communicate swiftly and clearly. If he wanted to write a note describing a patient and her condition, he explained, he could write it out in lay terms:

A 74 year-old female with a past medical history of coronary artery disease, cerebral vascular accident (stroke), and congestive heart failure presents with swelling in her right leg and difficulty breathing when lying down for the past 24 hours.

Or he could say it the short way:

74 yo ♀ ć h/o CAD, CVA, CHF p/w R LE edema and orthopnea x 24hrs

(That accent mark over the lower-case c is supposed to be a straight line, but my computer didn't know how to make that happen.)

I think that's pretty cool.

Here are a few more fancy medical terms, with definitions supplied by the folks at RightHealth.

Blepharospasm = Eye Twitch: A blepharospasm is an abnormal tic or twitch of the eye, caused by caffeine, fatigue, pain, stress or an irritant. Women are twice as likely to get them. Often the twitches go away without treatment, but sun glasses, ample sleep and stress and caffeine reduction can help.

Neuropraxia = Pins and Needles in Limbs: Ever have your arm or leg fall asleep? That is called neuropraxia, and it is caused by pressure on the nerves -- not poor circulation like some might think. The sensation is only temporary, and will be relieved by moving the affected limb.

Rhinotillexomania = Compulsive Nose Picking: Studies of nose picking suggest that it's an almost universal practice among adults and is not considered a pathologic disorder. However, it is often associated with other habitual behaviors. One study population was found to pick their noses an average of four times a day.


By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 14, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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Next: Is Facebook a Healthy Choice for Teens?


My mistake: I originally had written that the funky medical terms I blogged about here didn't appear anywhere on the RightHealth site and that the words had nothing to do with RightHealth's mission. I was wrong: as the p.r. person pointed out, "If you do a search on RightHealth for any of those words, you'll find a topic page for each of them. And the words do have something to do with RightHealth, since they're related to medicine."

I apologize for getting that wrong, and I've fixed my error.

Posted by: Jennifer Huget | July 14, 2008 7:13 PM | Report abuse

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