A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta

COMPUTER BUFF colleagues baffle me with talk of hardware, software and megabytes, just as photographer friends mystify me with talk of apertures, emulsions and push-processing.

But the medical profession is even more renowned for its jargon - an industry's own language for professionals to communicate with each other.

Doctors could not talk to one another quickly and efficiently if everything they said had to be constantly explained or put into plain language.

If a surgeon removes an organ, the operation is called an 'ectomy', like a hysterectomy, the removal of the womb, or appendectomy, removing the appendix, or a tonsillectomy for taking out tonsils. But if he tinkers about with bits of bone and takes some out to correct a deformity, it is an osteotomy.

Taking blood for testing from a vein is called a phlebotomy, although health care professionals hardly ever use the word. This is not to be confused with phlegmatic, which is to do with the stuff you cough up!

There are other funny sounding terms such as dysgeusia, which means a disturbance of taste, and anosmia - a complete loss of the sense of smell. Dysphonia denotes difficulty in speaking and the cause of the problem is often laryngitis, which is also a brute to spell.

'Itis' means inflammation. If a tendon is involved this is called tenosynovitis, a common problem affecting the wrist or elbow because, of strains imposed by modem machines and repetitive work such as working a keyboard.

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, whereas meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain. Fibrositis is a painful muscular condition due to inflammation of the tissues around the muscles themselves, sometimes with the formation of painful nodules. There is also the 'itis' of joints, arthritis.

However, arthralgia just means pain in a joint, just as neuralgia means nerve pain or pain along the course of one particular nerve. Hence, we often speak of neuralgia when we have toothache.

These are just some of the common conditions I see in the medical world - I could go on forever with the list of jargon used for illnesses.

Instead, the most important thing to remember is not to be frightened by jargon as, more often than not, it sounds more serious than it really is.