Medical Terminology of the Respiratory System

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This article covers medical terminology of the respiratory system. These terms will help with the study of respiratory conditions and diseases. You can use this list as you cover disease processes related to the respiratory system in your studies.

First, this article will cover a list of word roots, and a few additional suffixes and prefixes specifically related to the respiratory system. Secondly, you will find terms related to respiratory specialties and their definitions. There is also a list of respiratory structures, diagnostic test, and procedures. Finally, there is a list containing diseases and conditions of the respiratory system.

If you need a background on how medical terms are formed, read the article on Medical Terminology Basics. Also, the article 11 Rules for Changing Singular Terms to Plural Terms is a good article for the use of singular and plural endings used in medical terminology. 

Since a list of basic prefixes and suffixes has been presented in the previous article Medical Terminology of the Cardiovascular System, these lists are just a review of those medical terms.

Review of Prefixes

This section contains prefixes that are used for the medical terminology of most systems. Prefixes are used at the beginning of a word to modify or vary the meaning of the word. When the prefixes are detached from a term, it is followed by a hyphen (-).

a-, an-no, not, without, away
brady- slow
dia-apart, through
end-, endo-within, inside
exo-outside of, without
epi- above
hyper- excessive
hypo- insufficient
inter- between
intra- middle
medial-situated or pertaining to the middle
normo- normal
per- through
peri- around
physio-, physi-related to nature or physiology
poly- many
pro-before, for, in front of, from, in behalf of, on account of
re-back, again
retro-behind, back, backward
sub-under, below, beneath, in small quantity, less than normal
syn-, sy-, syl-, sym-union or association
tachy- fast
trans- across, through, beyond, over
ultra- excess

Review of Suffixes

Below are some suffixes that can be used for the medical terminology of most systems. Suffixes are placed at the end of a word root or word part to modify or vary the meaning. Suffixes can indicate a condition, disease or a procedure. When a suffix is written detached it is preceded by a hyphen (-).

-ac. -al, -ar, -aryPertaining to
-icPertaining to, characteristics
-ose, -ousPertaining to
-tic Pertaining to
-centesissurgical puncture as to aspirate or remove fluid
-cision process of cutting
-ectomyexcision (surgical removal or cutting out)
-grama drawing or a written record
-graphproduct of a drawing, writing or recording
-graphythe process of recording
-ia condition
-ism condition process, theory of, principle, method
-itis inflammation
-ologist one who studies
-ologystudy of
-lysisprocess of loosening, freeing, or destroying
-opsyto view
-osiscondition, status process
-otomycutting into
-ostomyformation of an opening
-plasty surgical repair
-pathy disease
-sclerosis hardening
-scope instrument for viewing
-scopyvisual examination with a lighted instrument
-sisstate of, condition
-stasis to stand, place, stop, control
-tension pressure
-ule small

Word Root and Combining Vowel for the Respiratory System

This is a list of word roots with their combining vowel used for the respiratory system.

Word RootDefinition
alveol(o)through, channel, cavity. Pertains to alveolus.
lob(o)lobe, rounded prominence
pneum(o)lung, air
rhin(o)nose, nose like
trache(o)trachea, windpipe

Additional Respiratory Suffixes and Prefixes

-pneabreathing or breath
naso- nose
oxi-, oxypresence of oxygen
-oxiacondition of oxygenation

Respiratory Specialties

This is a list of the respiratory specialist and their general job description.

Medical Terminology Respiratory System_Medical Specialist
PulmonologyThe science dealing with the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the lungs.
PulmonologistA person skilled in pulmonology.

The Structure and Function of the Respiratory System

The respiratory system brings air from the atmosphere into the lungs. The bloodstream carries air from the lung to the body’s tissue. The cells of the body use oxygen and produce a waste byproduct called carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is toxic and can cause problems if allowed to remain in the body. The bloodstream removes this waste product and sends it back to the lungs. Also, the respiratory system helps maintain acid-base balance and is responsible for the creation of speech.

Check out the article Nursing Assessment of the Respiratory System and to learn about the different landmarks related to the respiratory system. Also, the article 9 Facts About the Respiratory System Every Nursing Student Should Know will give some foundational information about the respiratory system.

Remember, not all terms used for medical terminology use a prefix, word root, combining vowel or a suffix. But, they are still medical terminology related to the respiratory system.

Medical Terminology Respiratory System_Lobes of the LUngs
AlveolarLittle hollow; Pertains to the alveolus
Alveoli is the plural form of alveolus.
Alveolus also means little hollow.
Bronchi is the plural form of bronchus.
One of the large air passages in the lungs.
BronchiolesLittle windpipe
Airways that extend from the bronchi.
DiaphragmA dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity and the abdominal cavity.
EpiglottisA leaf-like structure that covers the larynx that prevents food from entering the larynx.
LarynxOrgan of voice.
LobeA rounded projection of any structure like the lung.
MediastinumMediastina is plural
A part of the thoracic cavity.
NasalPertaining to the nose or nasal cavity.
OxygenA gas that is odorless and tasteless which is essential for human respiration.
PleuraPleurae is the plural form of pleura.
A serous membrane that encompasses the lungs.
PulmonaryPertaining to the lungs and respiratory system.
PharyngealPertaining to the pharynx.
The pharynx is located behind the nasal cavities. It extends down to the larynx. The pharynx is very important because it is the only passage from the mouth and the nasal cavities to the lung.
SurfactantA lipoprotein that reduces the surface tension in the alveoli and keeps the alveoli open.
ThoraxThoraxes and thoraces is plural for thorax.
The upper part of the chest containing the organs of respiration.
TracheaThe trachea extends from the cricoid cartilages to about midway of the chest around the 5th or 6th thoracic vertebrae. The windpipe is another name for the trachea.

Diagnostic Studies of the Respiratory System

Arterial blood gases (ABGs)The measurement of the oxygen and the carbon dioxide contents in arterial blood. This gives information about acid base balances and oxygenation.
BronchoscopyBronch(o) refers to the bronchus
-scopy is the visual examination with a lighted instrument.
The visual examination of the tracheobronchial tree using an instrument called a bronchoscope. The instrument is a curved flexible tube that is lighted and projects an enlarged image.
Computed tomography (CT)A technique that uses radiographic to produce an image of the cross section of tissue. This procedure can be used to find masses or tumors in the lungs.
LaryngoscopyLaryng(o) refers to larynx
-scopy is the visual examination with a lighted instrument.
The use of an endoscope called a laryngoscope to view the laynx.
Lung biopsyA test to gather specimen of pulmonary tissue for diagnosis.
Lung scanA radiographic examination of the lung to gather information about the lung and the function of the lung.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)Magnetic means lodestone
Resonance means to sound again.
Imaging means image.
An MRI is a procedure used to produce an image by the creation of a magnetic field to give detailed information about the respiratory system.
Pulmonary angiographyPulmonary means pertaining to the lungs
Angi(o) refers to blood vessel
-graphy refers to the process of recording.
The examination of the blood vessels of the lungs.
OximetryOxi- refers to oxygen
A method for measuring the oxygen saturation of arterial blood.
Pulmonary function test (PFT)An examination that test the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
SpirometerAn instrument used to measure the amount of air inhaled and exhaled.
SpirometryEvaluation of the air capacity of the lungs.
Ventilation-perfusion ratio (V/Q)The ratio of pulmonary alveolar ventilation to pulmonary capillary perfusion.

Procedures of the Respiratory System

Endotracheal intubationEndo- refers to inward, within (end-ent-ento-)
Tracheal means pertaining to the trachea.
Intubation refers to the insertion of a tube into a body opening.
A type of intubation in which a catheter is inserted through the mouth or nose into the trachea for airway management.
ThoracentesisThora- refers to chest.
-centesis refers to a surgical puncture to aspirate or remove fluid.
The puncture of the chest wall and pleural space with a needle to aspirate fluid. This procedure is usually done to gather a specimen for a biopsy.
ThracotomyThorac- refers to chest.
-otomy refers to cutting into.
An opening made into the chest wall for the purpose of drainage.
TracheostomyTrache(o) means pertaining to the trachea
-ostomy refers to the formation of an opening.
The formation of an opening through the neck into the trachea to gain access to the airway below a blockage.

Diseases and Conditions of the Respiratory System

Medical Terminology Respiratory System_Diseases
Aspiration pneumoniaAspiration means drawing in or out by suction.
Pneum(o) refers to lungs or air
Pneumonia is an acute inflammation of the lungs.
A condition of the lungs caused by the inhalation of a foreign object or vomitus.
AsthmaA respiratory condition caused by constriction of the bronchi causing wheezing coughing and thick bronchial secretions.
AtelectasisAteles means incomplete (Greek)
-ectasia means dilation, extension.
A conditions characterized by collapse of the alveoli which prevent gas exchange in that part of the lung.
BronchitisBronch- refers to the bronchus
-itis means inflammation.
Inflammation of the tracheobronchial tree usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)An umbrella of diseases including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic bronchiectasis which cause decreased ability of inspiration and expiration the full capacity of the lungs.
CracklesAir flowing by liquid cause crackles (rales).Crackles can be fine, medium or coarse.
Fine crackles are high-pitched crackling or popping sound.
Coarse crackles are a low-pitched gurgling sound.
These sounds are usually heard during inspiration.
EmphysemaEm- means in or on
-physema refers to blowing.
Over-inflation or destruction of the alveolar wall causing decreased elasticity and decreased gas exchange.
HemoptysisHemo- refers to blood or blood vessels.
-ptysis refers to spitting of matter.
Coughing up of blood from the respiratory tract.
HemothoraxHemo- refers to blood or blood vessels.
Thorax refers to chest.
The accumulation of blood and fluid in the pleural space in the chest.
HyperventilationHyper- means excessive.
Ventilation refers to the process of moving air in and out of the lungs (respiration).
An increased respiratory rate (breaths per minute) and increased tidal volume ( air inhaled) greater than needed for gas exchange.
HypoventilationHypo- means insufficient.
Ventilation refers to the process of moving air in and out of the lungs (respiration).
A decrease in the amount of air taken in which is inadequate to sustain metabolic demands.
HypoxiaHypo- means insufficient.
Oxia- refers to oxygen.
Inadequate oxygen in the body.
Pleural effusionPleural means pertaining to the pleura.
Effusion means the escape of fluid into a cavity.
An abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pleural space.
PleurisyPleura is the serous membrane enclosing the lungs and inflammation.
Inflammation of the parietal pleura of the lungs.
PneumothoraxPneumo- refers to air.
Thorax refers to the chest.
An accumulation of air in the pleural space of the chest causing the lungs to collapse.
Pulmonary embolusPulmonary means pertaining to the lungs.
Embolus is a thrombus, air, tissue or object that circulates in the bloodstream.
The blockage of the pulmonary artery by a thrombus usually traveling from a peripheral vein.
RhonchiAir flowing over thick secretions cause rhonchi. Rhonchi create a low-pitched sound.
They are usually continuous and prolonged.
WheezesAir flowing through constricted airways cause wheezes. Wheezes have a high-pitched musical sound and are usually continuous. They are heard on inspiration and expiration.
High-pitched wheezes are sibilant.
Low-pitched wheezes are sonorous.


Mosby’s Medical Dictionary (2017). 10th ed. St Louis, MO. Elsevier Inc.

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