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Glossary

Abdomen: The belly, that part of the body that contains all of the structures between the chest and the pelvis. The abdomen is separated anatomically from the chest by the diaphragm, the powerful muscle spanning the body cavity below the lungs.


Abdominal: Relating to the abdomen, the belly, that part of the body that contains all of the structures between the chest and the pelvis. The abdomen is separated anatomically from the chest by the diaphragm, the powerful muscle spanning the body cavity below the lungs.


Abdominal pain: Pain in the belly (the abdomen). Abdominal pain can come from conditions affecting a variety of organs. The abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Although abdominal pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity (the skin and abdominal wall muscles), the term abdominal pain generally is used to describe pain originating from organs within the abdominal cavity (from beneath the skin and muscles). These organs include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.


Absorb: 1. To take something in, as through the skin or the intestine.
2. To react with radiation and reduce it in intensity, as with a dose of radiation or transmitted light.


Anus: The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.


Arms: An appendage in anatomy and in clinical trials.

Belly: That part of the body that contains all of the structures between the chest and the pelvis. Also called the abdomen.


Belly button: The navel or umbilicus. The one-time site of attachment of the umbilical cord. The term "belly button" was coined around 1877.

Bladder: Any pouch or other flexible enclosure that can hold liquids or gases but usually refers to the hollow organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine -- the urinary bladder. The kidneys filter waste from the blood and produce urine, which enters the bladder through two tubes called ureters. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube, the urethra. In women, the urethra is a short tube that opens just in front of the vagina. In men, it is longer, passing through the prostate gland and then the penis. Infection of the bladder is called cystitis.

Bone marrow: The soft blood-forming tissue that fills the cavities of bones and contains fat and immature and mature blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Diseases or drugs that affect the bone marrow can affect the total counts of these cells.

Bowel: Another name for the intestine. The small bowel and the large bowel are the small intestine and large intestine, respectively.


Brain: That part of the central nervous system that is located within the cranium (skull). The brain functions as the primary receiver, organizer and distributor of information for the body. It has two (right and left) halves called "hemispheres."

Breastfeeding: Feeding a child human breast milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, human breast milk is preferred for all infants. This includes even premature and sick babies, with rare exceptions. It is the food least likely to cause allergic reactions; it is inexpensive; it is readily available at any hour of the day or night; babies accept the taste readily; and the antibodies in breast milk can help a baby resist infections.


Breathing: The process of respiration, during which air is inhaled into the lungs through the mouth or nose due to muscle contraction, and then exhaled due to muscle relaxation.

Caffeine: A stimulant found naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans (chocolate) and kola nuts (cola) and added to soft drinks, foods, and medicines. A cup of coffee has 100-250 milligrams of caffeine. Black tea brewed for 4 minutes has 40-100 milligrams. Green tea has one-third as much caffeine as black tea.


Calcium: A mineral found mainly in the hard part of bones, where it is stored. Calcium is added to bones by cells called osteoblasts and is removed from bones by cells called osteoclasts. Calcium is essential for healthy bones. It is also important for muscle contraction, heart action, nervous system maintenance, and normal blood clotting. Food sources of calcium include dairy foods, some leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and collards, canned salmon, clams, oysters, calcium-fortified foods, and tofu. According to the National Academy of Sciences, adequate intake of calcium is 1,200 milligrams a day (four glasses of milk) for men and women 51 and older, 1,000 milligrams a day for adults 19 through 50, and 1,300 milligrams a day for children 9 through 18. The upper limit for calcium intake is 2.5 grams daily.

Carpal tunnel syndrome: A type of compression neuropathy (nerve damage) caused by compression and irritation of the median nerve in the wrist. The nerve is compressed within the carpal tunnel, a bony canal in the palm side of the wrist that provides passage for the median nerve to the hand. The irritation of the median nerve is specifically due to pressure from the transverse carpal ligament.


Cervix: The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). The uterus, a hollow, pear-shaped organ, is located in a woman's lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum. The cervix forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.


Colostrum: A sticky white or yellow fluid secreted by the breasts during the second half of pregnancy and for a few days after birth before the breast milk comes in.

Constipation: Infrequent (and frequently incomplete) bowel movements. The opposite of diarrhea, constipation is commonly caused by irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, and medications (constipation can paradoxically be caused by overuse of laxatives). Colon cancer can narrow the colon and thereby cause constipation. The large bowel (colon) can be visualized by barium enema x-rays, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. Barring a condition such as cancer, high-fiber diets can frequently relieve the constipation.

Dehydration: Excessive loss of body water. Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that cause vomiting or diarrhea may, for example, lead to dehydration. There are a number of other causes of dehydration including heat exposure, prolonged vigorous exercise (e.g., in a marathon), kidney disease, and medications (diuretics).

Dizziness: Painless head discomfort with many possible causes including disturbances of vision, the brain, balance (vestibular) system of the inner ear, and gastrointestinal system. Dizziness is a medically indistinct term which laypersons use to describe a variety of conditions ranging from lightheadedness, unsteadiness to vertigo.


Due date: The estimated calendar date when a baby will be born, the date the baby is due to be born. It is also called the estimated date of confinement (EDC).

Embryo: The organism in the early stages of growth and differentiation from fertilization to, in humans, the beginning of the third month of pregnancy. After that point in time, it is termed a fetus.

Esophagus: The tube that connects the pharynx (throat) with the stomach. The esophagus lies between the trachea (windpipe) and the spine. It passes down the neck, pierces the diaphragm just to the left of the midline, and joins the cardiac (upper) end of the stomach. In an adult, the esophagus is about 25 centimeters (10 inches) long. When a person swallows, the muscular walls of the esophagus contract to push food down into the stomach. Glands in the lining of the esophagus produce mucus, which keeps the passageway moist and facilitates swallowing. Also known as the gullet or swallowing tube. From the Greek oisophagos, from oisein meaning to bear or carry + phagein, to eat.

Fatigue: A condition characterized by a lessened capacity for work and reduced efficiency of accomplishment, usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness and tiredness. Fatigue can be acute and come on suddenly or chronic and persist.

Groin: In anatomy, the area where the upper thigh meets the trunk. More precisely, the fold or depression marking the juncture of the lower abdomen and the inner part of the thigh.

Headache: A pain in the head with the pain being above the eyes or the ears, behind the head (occipital), or in the back of the upper neck. Headache, like chest pain or back ache, has many causes.


Heart: The muscle that pumps blood received from veins into arteries throughout the body. It is positioned in the chest behind the sternum (breastbone; in front of the trachea, esophagus, and aorta; and above the diaphragm muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities. The normal heart is about the size of a closed fist, and weighs about 10.5 ounces. It is cone-shaped, with the point of the cone pointing down to the left. Two-thirds of the heart lies in the left side of the chest with the balance in the right chest.

Heartburn: An uncomfortable feeling of burning and warmth occurring in waves rising up behind the breastbone (sternum) toward the neck. It is usually due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the rise of stomach acid back up into the esophagus. Heartburn has nothing whatsoever to do with the heart. It is a popular nonmedical term. It is medically called pyrosis.


Hormone: A chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs.


Humidifier: Anything, usually a machine today, that adds moisture to the air.

Infection: The growth of a parasitic organism within the body. (A parasitic organism is one that lives on or in another organism and draws its nourishment therefrom.) A person with an infection has another organism (a "germ") growing within him, drawing its nourishment from the person.


Itching: An uncomfortable sensation in the skin that feels as if something is crawling on the skin or in the skin, and makes the person want to scratch the affected area.

Jaundice: Yellow staining of the skin and sclerae (the whites of the eyes) by abnormally high blood levels of the bile pigment bilirubin. The yellowing extends to other tissues and body fluids. Jaundice was once called the "morbus regius" (the regal disease) in the belief that only the touch of a king could cure it.


Kegel exercises: Exercises designed to increase muscle strength and elasticity in the female pelvis. Kegel exercises may be recommended for treatment of an incompetent cervix, vaginal looseness after pregnancy and delivery, or urinary incontinence.

Knee: The knee is a joint which has three parts. The thigh bone (the femur) meets the large shin bone (the tibia) to form the main knee joint. This joint has an inner (medial) and an outer (lateral) compartment. The kneecap (the patella) joins the femur to form a third joint, called the patellofemoral joint. The patella protects the front of the knee joint.


Labor: Childbirth, the aptly-named experience of delivering the baby and placenta from the uterus to the vagina to the outside world. There are two stages of labor. During the first stage (called the stage of dilatation), the cervix dilates fully to a diameter of about 10 cm. In the second stage (called the stage of expulsion), the baby moves out through the cervix and vagina to be born.


Lanugo: Downy hair on the body of the fetus and newborn baby. It is the first hair to be produced by the fetal hair follicles, usually appearing on the fetus at about five months of gestation. It is very fine, soft, and usually unpigmented. Although lanugo is normally shed before birth around seven or eight months of gestation, it is sometimes present at birth. This is not a cause for concern: lanugo will disappear within a few days or weeks of its own accord.


Leg: In popular usage, the leg extends from the top of the thigh down to the foot. However, in medical terminology, the leg refers to the portion of the lower extremity from the knee to the ankle.


Lightheadedness: A feeling you are "going to faint." Lightheadedness is medically distinct from dizziness, unsteadiness, and vertigo. See: Dizziness, Unsteadiness, and Vertigo.

Liver: An organ in the upper abdomen that aids in digestion and removes waste products and worn-out cells from the blood. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. The liver weighs about three and a half pounds (1.6 kilograms). It measures about 8 inches (20 cm) horizontally (across) and 6.5 inches (17 cm) vertically (down) and is 4.5 inches (12 cm) thick.

Lungs: The lungs are a pair of breathing organs located with the chest which remove carbon dioxide from and bring oxygen to the blood. There is a right and left lung.

Marrow: The bone marrow.


Mask of pregnancy: Muddy-brown pigmentation on the cheeks or elsewhere on the face that develops in about half of all women during pregnancy. Some women also develop it outside pregnancy, as do some women on hormone therapy. The pigmentation is worsened by ultraviolet (UV) light, which tends to darken it. Regular use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen against both UVA and UVB can prevent progression of the condition. The hyperpigmentation (excess pigment in the skin) usually lightens up with the use of topical treatment with bleaching agents, together with the topical application of retinoin (vitamin A acid, Retin-A). Light chemical peels can also aid and abet the effects of the topical therapy. Also known as melasma or chloasma.

Meconium: Dark sticky material normally present in the intestine at birth and passed in the feces after birth. The passage of meconium before birth can be a sign of fetal distress.

Melasma: Pigmentation of the face, most commonly on the malar area (the upper cheek), bridge of nose, forehead, and upper lip, that occurs in half of women during pregnancy. Birth control pills can also cause melasma. However, hormone therapy after menopause does not cause the condition.


Metabolism: The whole range of biochemical processes that occur within an organism. Metabolism consists both of anabolism and catabolism (the buildup and breakdown of substances, respectively). The biochemical reactions are known as metabolic pathways and involve enzymes that transform one substance into another substance, either breaking down a substance or building a new chemical substance. The term is commonly used to refer specifically to the breakdown of food and its transformation into energy.

Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.


Mouth: 1. The upper opening of the digestive tract, beginning with the lips and containing the teeth, gums, and tongue. Foodstuffs are broken down mechanically in the mouth by chewing and saliva is added as a lubricant. Saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that digests starch. 2. Any opening or aperture in the body. The mouth in both senses of the word is also called the os, the Latin word for an opening, or mouth. The o in os is pronounced as in hope. The genitive form of os is oris from which comes the word oral.

Muscle: Muscle is the tissue of the body which primarily functions as a source of power. There are three types of muscle in the body. Muscle which is responsible for moving extremities and external areas of the body is called "skeletal muscle." Heart muscle is called "cardiac muscle." Muscle that is in the walls of arteries and bowel is called "smooth muscle."

Nasal: Having to do with the nose. Nasal drops are intended for the nose, not (for example) the eyes. The word "nasal" came from the Latin "nasus" meaning the nose or snout.

Nausea: Nausea, is the urge to vomit. It can be brought by many causes including, systemic illnesses, such as influenza, medications, pain, and inner ear disease. When nausea and/or vomiting are persistent, or when they are accompanied by other severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, jaundice, fever, or bleeding, a physician should be consulted.

Nerve: A bundle of fibers that uses chemical and electrical signals to transmit sensory and motor information from one body part to another.

Nose: The external midline projection from the face.


Nosebleed: Its medical name is epistaxis.

Numb: Numb, or numbness is a loss of the sensation of feeling in an area of the body. Numbness results from damage to, or impaired function of, the nerves that supply the affected area. The function of the nerves may be impaired by numerous causes including some chronic diseases (diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, migraine), trauma, toxins, decreased blood supply due to atherosclerosis or other conditions, electrolyte imbalances, and pressure on the spinal nerves from herniated discs or other diseases of the spine.

Organ: A relatively independent part of the body that carries out one or more special functions. The organs of the human body include the eye, ear, heart, lungs, and liver.

Ounce: A measure of weight equal to 1/16th of a pound or, metrically, 28.35 grams. The abbreviation for ounce is oz. (An ounce of prevention is reputedly worth a pound of cure.)


Pain: An unpleasant sensation that can range from mild, localized discomfort to agony. Pain has both physical and emotional components. The physical part of pain results from nerve stimulation. Pain may be contained to a discrete area, as in an injury, or it can be more diffuse, as in disorders like fibromyalgia. Pain is mediated by specific nerve fibers that carry the pain impulses to the brain where their conscious appreciation may be modified by many factors.
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Pelvic: Having to do with the pelvis, the lower part of the abdomen, located between the hip bones.

Pound: A measure of weight equal to 16 ounces or, metrically, 453.6 grams. The word "pound" goes back to the Latin "pondo" which meant a "weight" (but one of only 12 ounces). The abbreviation for pound-just to confuse non-pound people-is lb. which stands for "libra" (Latin for pound).

Preeclampsia: A condition in pregnancy characterized by abrupt hypertension (a sharp rise in blood pressure), albuminuria (leakage of large amounts of the protein albumin into the urine) and edema (swelling) of the hands, feet, and face. Preeclampsia is the most common complication of pregnancy. It affects about 5% of pregnancies. It occurs in the third trimester (the last third) of pregnancy.


Pregnancy: The state of carrying a developing embryo or fetus within the female body. This condition can be indicated by positive results on an over-the-counter urine test, and confirmed through a blood test, ultrasound, detection of fetal heartbeat, or an X-ray. Pregnancy lasts for about nine months, measured from the date of the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). It is conventionally divided into three trimesters, each roughly three months long.


Pregnant: The state of carrying a developing fetus within the body.


Rectum: The last 6 to 8 inches of the large intestine. The rectum stores solid waste until it leaves the body through the anus. The word rectum comes from the Latin rectus meaning straight (which the human rectum is not).

Reflex: A reaction that is involuntary. The corneal reflex is the blink that occurs with irritation of the eye. The nasal reflex is a sneeze.

Sciatic nerve: The largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve begins from nerve roots in the lumbar part of the spinal cord (in the low back) and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down to the legs.


Sciatica: Pain resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve, typically felt from the low back to behind the thigh and radiating down below the knee. While sciatica can result from a herniated disc directly pressing on the nerve, any cause of irritation or inflammation of this nerve can reproduce the painful symptoms of sciatica. Diagnosis is by observation of symptoms, physical and nerve testing, and sometimes by X-ray or MRI if a herniated disk is suspected.


Scrotum: A pouch of skin which contains the testes, epididymides, and lower portions of the spermatic cords.

Shortness of breath: Difficulty in breathing. Medically referred to as dyspnea. Shortness of breath can be caused by respiratory (breathing passages and lungs) or circulatory (heart and blood vessels) conditions.

Skeleton: The skeleton is composed of bones and is the framework of the body.

Sleep: The body's rest cycle.

Spinal cord: The major column of nerve tissue that is connected to the brain and lies within the vertebral canal and from which the spinal nerves emerge. Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves originate in the spinal cord: 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 1 coccygeal. The spinal cord and the brain constitute the central nervous system (CNS). The spinal cord consists of nerve fibers that transmit impulses to and from the brain. Like the brain, the spinal cord is covered by three connective-tissue envelopes called the meninges. The space between the outer and middle envelopes is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear colorless fluid that cushions the spinal cord against jarring shock. Also known simply as the cord.


Startle reflex: A reflex seen in normal infants in response to a loud noise. The infant with make a sudden body movement, bringing the legs and arms toward the chest.

Stomach: 1. The sac-shaped digestive organ that is located in the upper abdomen, under the ribs. The upper part of the stomach connects to the esophagus, and the lower part leads into the small intestine.


Strain: 1. An injury to a tendon or muscle resulting from overuse or trauma. 2. A hereditary tendency that originated from a common ancestor. 3. To exert maximum effort. 4. To filter.

Syndrome: A set of signs and symptoms that tend to occur together and which reflect the presence of a particular disease or an increased chance of developing a particular disease.


Taste: Taste belongs to our chemical sensing system, or the chemosenses. The complicated process of tasting begins when molecules released by the substances stimulate special cells in the mouth or throat. These special sensory cells transmit messages through nerves to the brain where specific tastes are identified.


Testicles: The testicles (also called testes or gonads) are the male sex glands. They are located behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. The testicles produce and store sperm, and they are also the body's main source of male hormones (testosterone). These hormones control the development of the reproductive organs and other male characteristics, such as body and facial hair, low voice, and wide shoulders.

Thigh: The thigh extends from the hip to the knee. The thigh has only one bone, the femur which is the largest bone in the human body.
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Tired: A feeling of a lessened capacity for work and reduced efficiency of accomplishment, usually accompanied by a sense of weariness and fatigue.


Tongue: The tongue is a strong muscle anchored to the floor of the mouth. It is covered by the lingual membrane which has special areas to detect tastes.


Trigger: Something that either sets off a disease in people who are genetically predisposed to developing the disease, or that causes a certain symptom to occur in a person who has a disease. For example, sunlight can trigger rashes in people with lupus.

Trimester: The nine months of pregnancy is traditionally divided into three trimesters: distinct periods of roughly three months in which different phases of fetal development take place.

Tummy: 1. Babytalk for the stomach. The word tummy is derived from stomach.
2. Slang for a paunch. A big tummy raises the risk of diabetes.

Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves. Ultrasound waves can be bounced off of tissues using special devices. The echoes are then converted into a picture called a sonogram. Ultrasound imaging, referred to as ultrasonography, allows physicians and patients to get an inside view of soft tissues and body cavities, without using invasive techniques. Ultrasound is often used to examine a fetus during pregnancy. There is no convincing evidence for any danger from ultrasound during pregnancy.

Umbilical cord: The cord that connects the developing embryo or fetus with the placenta and through which run the umbilical arteries and vein. The matrix (the substance) of the umbilical cord is known as Wharton's jelly and is a rich source of stem cells. At birth the umbilical cord measures about 20 inches (50 cm) in length. The cord is clamped and cut after birth and its residual tip forms the umbilicus (bellybutton).


Urethra: The transport tube leading from the bladder to discharge urine outside the body. In males, the urethra travels through the penis, and carries semen as well as urine. In females, the urethra is shorter than in the male and emerges above the vaginal opening, as indicated here:

Urinary: Having to do with the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. The urinary system represents the functional and anatomic aspects of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.

Urine: Liquid waste. The urine is a clear, transparent fluid. It normally has an amber color. The average amount of urine excreted in 24 hours is from 40 to 60 ounces (about 1,200 cubic centimeters). Chemically, the urine is mainly an aqueous (watery) solution of salt (sodium chloride) and substances called urea and uric acid. Normally, it contains about 960 parts of water to 40 parts of solid matter. Abnormally, it may contain sugar (in diabetes), albumen (a protein) (as in some forms of kidney disease), bile pigments (as in jaundice), or abnormal quantities of one or another of its normal components.

Uterus: The uterus (womb) is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman's lower abdomen between the bladder and the rectum. The narrow, lower portion of the uterus is the cervix; the broader, upper part is the corpus. The corpus is made up of two layers of tissue.

Vagina: The muscular canal extending from the cervix to the outside of the body. It is usually six to seven inches in length, and its walls are lined with mucus membrane. It includes two vaultlike structures, the anterior (front) vaginal fornix and the posterior (rear) vaginal fornix. The cervix protrudes slightly into the vagina, and it is through a tiny hole in the cervix (the os) that sperm make their way toward the internal reproductive organs. The vagina also includes numerous tiny glands that make vaginal secretions.


Vernix: More formally known as vernix caseosa, the vernix is a white cheesy substance that covers and protects the skin of the fetus and is still all over the skin of a baby at birth. Vernix is composed of sebum (the oil of the skin) and cells that have sloughed off the fetus' skin.
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Vital: Necessary to maintain life. Breathing is a vital function.