<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=572582193280721&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
August 30, 2018

The Patient’s Glossary - Terms that doctors use explained

adult-africa-african-1089550Going to the doctor, or talking to a doctor in hospital, can bring about many anxieties. There is, of course, the original issue for which you are going to the doctor and its looming diagnosis, which can be downright scary, be it a sore throat or an unexplained lump. Add on top of this, however, the time constraints of your consultation, the many questions you know you’ll forget as soon as you get in the room, and the many more questions which will inevitably come up once the doctor starts talking, and it doesn’t take long before you’re contemplating the idea of not going at all, or just ignoring the problem. At Isabel, we want to do everything we can to alleviate these anxieties, and help patients feel empowered to talk to their doctor about their problems, ask the right questions, and feel satisfied with their consultation, diagnosis and follow up. One of the big worries is understanding the vocabulary that doctors use. Not understanding the terminology during an appointment with your doctor can be a real block in processing the possible diagnoses and getting answers to your questions, which may even delay a diagnosis or cause a misdiagnosis. It is also an issue which is relatively easily solved. With our handy blogpost of the most common terms that come up, you can go into your next doctor’s appointment or talk in hospital with confidence!


Not to be confused with a catheter, this is a thin tube inserted into a vein to drain blood or fluids, or to administer medication or specific fluids.


Not to be confused with a canula, a catheter is a small flexible tube inserted into the body. When people mention the word, they probably mean a urinary catheter, which is inserted into the bladder through either the urethra (the canal that your urine comes out of) or the tummy, and drains urine without you needing to go to the toilet yourself.

CT/CAT scan

A CAT scan is called this simply because CT sounds a bit like the word cat, and CT stands for Computerised Tomography. It is a kind of scan that uses x-ray and a computer to create images more detailed than a simple x-ray. They are usually a first port of call when a doctor needs to see inside the body at hospital.

Differential diagnosis

This is a system used by doctors to help them diagnose. It involves writing down all the possible conditions and diseases you could have based on your signs and symptoms, and gradually reducing it by asking more questions or taking tests, until the correct diagnosis is reached. Isabel has a professional tool that helps by suggesting all possible diagnoses based on the symptoms entered, some of which a doctor may not initially think of. Our Isabel Symptom Checker is based on the professional tool, so you can take in your own list to check with your doctor.


Electronic Medical Record. Sometimes also called an EPR (Electronic Patient Record),  or EHR (Electronic Health Record). It’s essentially a record of your medical history and information. You are allowed access to this information at any time, just ask your doctor.


This stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and is the next step up from a CT scan. It uses magnetic fields and radio waves to see inside your body in great detail. The only thing better than an MRI is actually seeing your body through cameras or surgery.

Signs/symptoms/clinical features

Most people have heard and understood the term symptoms, and know to explain certain things that have been happening out of the norm, the very things that have given you concern. Your doctor may, however, use or write down the terms ‘sign’ or ‘clinical feature’ as well. Simply put, a symptom is something that only you, the patient, can identify and is not evident without you explaining it. A sign is something anyone can notice on you. A bruise on your head would be a sign, a headache would be a symptom. The term clinical features is used by doctors as an umbrella terms for all signs, symptoms, test results and anything else relevant to diagnosing a condition.


There are many areas of medicine, and depending on our signs and symptoms, your condition can fit into any of these areas. Specialists focus on one of these, and a primary doctor or general practitioner (GP) knows about them all, although to lesser extent, and so is able to refer you to one of these specialists. There are then further specialties in these areas, such as different types of cancer or specific heart conditions. The most common broad areas of specialty are:

Cardiology - the heart

Gastroenterology - the digestive system

Oncology - all cancers

Dermatology - the skin

Gynecology - conditions unique to females

Andrology - condition unique to males

Neurology - the brain


Vitals are used to quickly determine any really crucial problems that need to be addressed. If you have anything wrong with your vitals, then they need to be addressed immediately. They include breathing rate, heart rate, temperature and blood pressure.


Your diagnosis

Once you have had your consultation, or maybe several, you and your doctor will hopefully have a diagnosis to then treat. There are thousands of diseases out there and they can often have complex names. The Isabel Symptom Checker has a diagnosis feature, where you can simply search the term on our tool and find out more information on that condition. We bring together the best resources from across the web to help you research your diagnosis and become armed with all the information on your condition.

Ask questions

We’ve tried to cover some of the most common words that come up when talking to your doctor, and hope these will make you feel a little more at ease and able to have a fruitful conversation. If there are terms, however, that you don’t understand, please do ask your doctor what it means. They may use these terms all the time and not recognise that it’s something other people don’t hear a lot, and it’s so important that you understand your symptoms and diagnosis so that you can feel in control of your own health.

If you are concerned about any symptoms your are experiencing, place them into the Isabel Symptom Checker and discuss the results with your doctor.



Start your FREE Trial today

Try the Isabel Pro DDx generator for 30-days - no payment card details required. 

Try it Now