A suffix in medical terminology is the ending of a word that changes the meaning of the word

A suffix in medical terminology is one of the word parts that make up a medical term. When a different suffix is added to the end of a word, it can change the entire meaning of the word.

If you work in healthcare and do not have a strong foundation in medical terminology, you cannot effectively communicate with physicians and other healthcare professionals. This ineffectiveness can put a patient’s safety at risk.

A Suffix in Medical Terminology

A suffix is the word part that is placed at the end of a word and usually, but not always, indicates, procedure, condition, disease, or disorder. This word part is also preceded by a hyphen, such as in the suffix -osis.

The other three word parts, according to Medical Terminology for Health Professions, 8th Edition, include:

  • Word root. Main part of the word that usually indicates body part, such as in pulm-, to mean lung. A word root cannot stand alone; it must be accompanied by a suffix.
  • Combining form. Word root followed by a vowel (usually “o”) used when two word roots are combined or when the suffix begins with a consonant. A combining form appears as a word root with a back slash after it and before the combining vowel, such as in my/o.
  • Prefix. Word part placed at the beginning of word root that usually indicates location, time, number, or status. A prefix is not always added. When it is, however, the word part is shown with a hyphen after it, such as in hypo-.

Indications of a Suffix

The following are examples of medical terms with suffixes that indicate a procedure, condition, disease, or disorder:

  • Bronchoplasty. The reconstruction or repair of the bronchus. Bronch/o (bronchus); -plasty (surgical repair). The suffix -plasty refers to a procedure.
  • Arthralgia. Pain in a joint or joints. Arthr (joint); -algia (pain). The suffix -algia refers to a condition.
  • Neuropathy. Any disease or damage to a nerve. Neur/o (nerve); -pathy (disease). The suffix -pathy refers to a disease.
  • Spondylosis. A degenerative disorder that can lead to loss of normal spinal structure and function. Spondyl (verebrae); -osis (abnormal condition or disease). The suffix-osis refers to a disorder. 

One Word Root and a Suffix

When a suffix starts with a vowel, NO combining vowel is used to link the word root to the suffix, according to Medical Terminology & Anatomy for Coding, 3rd Edition

Example: The term is adenosis. The word root is aden, meaning gland, and the suffix is -osis, meaning abnormal condition or disease. The suffix -osis comes at the end of the word root aden. Adenosis means abnormal condition or disease of a gland.

When a suffix starts with a consonant, a vowel is used to link the word root to the suffix.

Example: The term is rhinoplasty. The word root is rhin (nose) and is combined with the suffix -plasty (surgical repair). The combining vowel “o” is used before -plasty, because -plasty starts with a consonant. Rhinoplasty is the surgical repair of the nose.   

Two Word Roots and a Suffix

When there are two word roots and a suffix that starts with a vowel, a vowel is added to the first word root.

Example: The term is pyelonephritis. Pyel means renal pelvis; nephr means kidney; -itis means inflammation. The vowel (o) is added to the first word root to make the combining form pyel/o. There is no need to add a vowel to the second word root in this case, because -itis starts with a vowel. Pyelonephritis means inflammation of both the renal pelvis and kidney.

When there are two word roots and a suffix that starts with a consonant, a vowel is added to the first word root and the second word root.

Example: The term is electrocardiogram. The two word roots are electr (electricity) and cardi (heart). The vowel (o) is added to the first word root to make the combining form electr/o. The suffix -gram (record) begins with a consonant and, therefore, the vowel (o) is used after the second word root to make the term easier to pronounce. Electr/o/cardi/o/gram. Electrocardiogram is the record of the electricity in the heart.

Different Suffix, Same Meaning

Some medical terms have the same meaning even though they have different suffixes.

Example: Take the terms, hysterodynia and hysteralgia. In hysterodynia, hyster/o means uterus; -dynia means pain. Hysterodynia means pain in the uterus. In hysteralgia, hyster/o means uterus; -algia means pain. Hysteralgia means pain in the uterus.

Different Suffix, Different Meaning

Changing the suffix changes the meaning of the word.

Example: The term is cardiac. The word root cardi means heart; the suffix -ac means pertaining to. Cardiac means pertaining to the heart. 

Now, if we take the term, cardiologist. Again, cardi means heart, the suffix -ologist means specialist. Cardiologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating abnormalities, diseases, and disorders of the heart.

Suffixes That Change a Word Root Into a Noun

These suffixes change the word root into a noun (person, place, or thing):

-a, -ae, -e, -i, -um, -us, -y 

Example: The term is pericardium. Peri- means surrounding, cardi means heart, and -um is the singular noun ending. Pericardium (thing) is also called the pericardial sac that surrounds the heart.

Suffixes That Mean “Pertaining To”

These suffixes mean “pertaining to” and turn the word root into an adjective (word that defines or describes):

-ac, -al, -an, -ar, -ary, -eal, -ial, -ical, -ic, -ine, -ior-, -ory, -ous, -tic

Example: Epigastric. epi- (above); gastr (stomach); -ic (pertaining to). Epigastric refers to the region above the stomach. 

Suffixes That Mean “Abnormal Condition or Disease”

Suffixes that mean “abnormal condition or disease” include:

-ago, -esis, -ia, -iasis, -ion, -ism, -nic, -osis

Example: Ankylosis. Ankyl/o (bent, crooked, or stiff); -osis (abnormal condition or disease). Anklyosis is abnormal stiffening of a joint.

Double R’s

Some medical terms have suffixes that start with two of the letter “r” and are often called the double Rs.

Suffixes that contain double Rs include:

-rrhage, -rrhagia, -rrhaphy, -rrhea, -rrhexis

Example: Splenorrhagia. splen/o (spleen); -rrhagia (bleeding). Splenorrhagia is an abnormal enlargement of the spleen.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what a suffix is in medical terminology and how it can affect patient care. Just by changing this word ending, it changes the meaning of the word. We discussed many of the common suffixes used in medical terminology and their rules associated with one and two word roots and vowels and consonants.


Now that you have reviewed the information on suffixes, why not take the Medical Terminology Challenge?

It’s only one multiple-choice question, so it will only take a few minutes. Then compare your answer to the answer and rationale provided.

You’ll find many more like it on my Resources page, and the best part is, they are FREE.

medical terminology challenge on suffixes indicating procedure


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