Medical Terminology for Billing and Coding


In our previous courses, you may have noticed a number of complex anatomy and physiology terms getting tossed around. It’s easy to get confused by medical terminology; thankfully, medical vocab is more bark than bite. If you can familiarize yourself with some prefixes, suffixes, and roots, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the official medical language of the body.

Let’s start off with the basics.


Many times you’ll encounter a medical term that contains a prefix that describes a number. Here are a few of the most common.

Prefix Meaning Example
Mono-, uni- One Unilateral
Bi- Two Bilateral
Tri- Three Triplicate


In medicine, you’ll often encounter terms that describe where a procedure or condition takes place on the body.

Prefix Meaning Example
Ab- Away from Abduction
Ad- Toward Adduction
Ecto-, exo- Outside Ectoparasite
Endo- Inside Endoderm
Epi- Upon Epinenephrine

There are also a number of positional and directional medical terms that are not suffixes or prefixes, but are instead standalone words. Here is a short list of some of the most valuable.

Word Meaning Example
Anterior or ventral At or near the front surface of the body “Anterior nerves”
Posterior or dorsal At or near the real surface of the body “Dorsal surface of the hand”
Superior Above “Superior (cranial) aspect”
Inferior Below “Inferior aspect”
Lateral Side “Lateral aspect”
Distal Farthest from center “Axons distal to the injury”
Proximal Nearest to center Proximal end of the forearm”


These terms will help you navigate the CPT and ICD manuals, decipher doctor’s reports, and give you a more thorough understanding of the medical practice in general. Let’s look now at a few basic terms for the regions of the body. You might recognize some of them.

Word Body Part
Abdominal abdomen
Buccal Cheek
Cranial Skull
Digital Fingers and toes
Femoral Thigh
Gluteal Buttock
Hallux Great toe
Inguinal Groin
Lumbar Loin (lowest part of the spine below the false ribs and between the hips)
Mammary Breast
Nasal Nose
Occipital Back of head
Pectoral Chest
Sternal Breastbone
Thoracic Chest
Umbilical Navel
Ventral Belly


Now that we’ve taken a look at the terms that describe the major regions of the body, let’s turn to some conditions that may affect those body parts.

Prefix Meaning Example
Ambi- Both Ambidextrous
Dys- Bad, painful, difficult Dyslexia
Eu- Good, normal Eukaryote
Homo- Same Homogenous
Iso- Equal, same Isotope
Mal- Bad, poor Malnutrition
Suffix Meaning Example
-algia Pain Myalgia
-emia Blood Hypoglycemia
-itis Inflammation Bronchitis
-lysis Destruction, break down Dialysis
-oid Like Haploid
-opathy Disease of Neuropathy
-pnea Breathing Sleep apnea


Let’s wrap up this vocabulary review with a look at some of the most common surgical procedures. Since it’s always imperative to list where on the body a surgical procedure was performed, these vocabulary terms are a small but useful addition to this section. Memorize the meanings of these suffixes and you’ll know instantly what kind of procedure was performed, even if you don’t know exactly what the procedure did.

Suffix Meaning Example
-centesis Puncture a cavity to remove fluid Amniocentesis
-ectomy Surgical removal or excision Hysterectomy
-ostomy A new permanent opening Tracheostomy
-otomy Cutting into, incision Gastrotomy
-orrhaphy Surgical repair or suture Gastrorrhaphy
-opexy Surgical fixation Nephropexy
-oplasty Surgical repair Rhinoplasty
-otripsy Crushing or destroying Lithotripsy

Note that you can also use your CPT manual to study human anatomy vocabulary. Current CPT manuals come with instructive illustrations, diagrams, and charts all throughout the book. In the front of the CPT manual, you should be able to find a list of anatomical illustrations. Bookmark this page and refer to it in case you’re looking for an illustration of the eye or inner ear, or need to remember which artery goes where. Also, be sure to download our ebook for more detailed tables on medical terminology.


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