06.03 Neuro Terminology

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Neuro Medical Terms
  1. General nervous system
  2. Brain
  3. Spinal Cord
  4. Nerves

Nursing Points


  1. General nervous system
    1. Terms pertaining to the nervous system
      1. Nerves – neur/o
      2. Brain – encephal/o
      3. Glial cell – gli/o
      4. Sensitivity to pain – alges/o or -algesia
      5. Paralysis – -plegia
      6. Weakness -paresis
  2. Brain
    1. Lobes of the brain
      1. Frontal – front/o
      2. Temporal – tempor/o
      3. Parietal – pariet/o
      4. Occipital – occipit/o
    2. Divisions
      1. Cerebrum – cerebr/o
      2. Cerebellum – cerebell/o
      3. Brain stem –
        1. pons – pont/o
        2. medulla oblongata – medull/o
        3. midbrain
    3. Other Terms
      1. Dura – dur/o
      2. Arachnoid layer – arachn/o
      3. Pia mater
      4. CSF – cerebrospinal fluid
      5. Thalamus – thalam/o
  3. Spinal cord
    1. Main terms
      1. Spinal cord – spin/o or myel/o
        1. myel/o can mean “bone marrow” in other context
      2. Nerve root – radicul/o
      3. Vagus nerve – vag/o
    2. Divisions
      1. Cervical – cervic/o
      2. Thoracic – thorac/o
      3. Lumbar – lumb/o
      4. Sacrum – sacr/o
      5. Coccyx – coccyge/o
  4. Nerves
    1. Nerves – neur/o
    2. Meninges – mening/o or meningi/o
    3. Sheath (of the meninges) – thec/o
  5. Common nervous system terms
    1. comat/o
    2. -esthesia
    3. kines/o; -kinesis
    4. -lepsy
    5. -paresis
    6. -phasia
    7. -plegia

Nursing Concepts

  1. Anatomy & Physiology
  2. Clinical Judgment
  3. Communication
  4. Intracranial Regulation


In this lesson, we’re going to take a look at the nervous system and the medical terminology that goes with it.

One thing that I want to point out a very clearly here is that there are some misconceptions when using medical terms when it comes to the nervous system. A lot of people will use nervous system terms interchangeably and it’s just not so. I want to make the point that we are going to clear up any of that confusion today.

When we’re talking about the nervous system, these medical terms are only going to pertain to the nervous system. These are words like neuro, or encephalo, which mean nerves and brain. Some other common medical terms that you may see when we’re talking about the nervous system are glio, which talks about glial cells,  and algeso or -algesia, which is the sensitivity to pain. Now if you remember back to our basic word structure, algeso is the combining form with the combining vowel, and -algesia is a suffix, but both mean the same thing.

A couple of other common terms that you may see are the suffixes plegia and paresis. If I said the word quadriplegia quad means four, and plegia means paralysis. So this is a paralysis of all four limbs. For patients that have high spinal injuries, it’s not uncommon for them to be quadriplegic. Now if a patient only had paralysis of the lower limbs, this would be “paraplegia” which would be in this case para meaning apart from. So a paraplegic is someone who is paralyzed from the waist down. There’s also this other concept of paresis, which is a weakness. Someone who has hemiparesis has a weakness to half of their body, which is usually a right or left side.

Now when we talk about the brain, we use medical terms to help locate where we’re talking about. There are four lobes primarily, which is the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital. All of these lobes have a combining form. Frontal would be fronto, temporal would be temporo, parietal would be parieto and occipital would be occipito.

We also use medical terms to talk about the divisions of the brain which are the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem. The cerebrum is referred to as cerebro, the cerebellum is referred to as cerebello and the brain stem is referred to in three parts. There’s the midbrain, the pons, and medulla. There’s not really a medical term for the midbrain, but for pons and medulla, there are. Pons is referred to as a ponto, and the medulla is referred to as medullo.

Now there are a couple of other terms that will extend into the next slide, but these are the other layers in the brain which are really important. The dura mater, the arachnoid mater, and the pia mater, all formed something called the meninges. What happens with these is that they all have combining forms as well. The dura mater is referred to as Duro,  and the arachno refers to the arachnoid Mater. While there is not necessarily a term for the Pia Mater, many providers will often referred to the pia and the arachnoid tissues as the Pia arachnoid membrane.

No one we’re looking at the spinal cord, we can often refer to the spinal cord as a spino or myelo. when we’re talking about medical terms, we always want to remember the context. In this case, we’re talking about the spinal cord when we say myelo, however, when we are talking about bones, myelo can actually refer to bone marrow. This is why context is always important when you’re using medical terminology.  Another important term that you may hear when we’re talking about the spinal cord is ridiculo, such as radiculopathy, which is a disease process of the nerve root. Another term that you may hear is from the combining form of Vago which refers to the vagus nerve. The vagal nerve plays a huge role in parasympathetic tone.

Another important thing you need to remember about the spinal cord is actually broken up into divisions, similar to that of the vertebral columns in the musculoskeletal system. They’re divided into the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacred, and Coccyx. These are referred to as cervical, thoraco, lumbo, Sacro, and coccygeo. This is really important when we’re talking about nerve roots, or areas of injury to a specific area of the spinal cord.

And lastly, we’re going to talk about nerves. Just like at the beginning of this lesson I talk specifically about how many words are used interchangeably. When we’re talking about nerves specifically, you want to use the medical term neuro. This talks specifically about nerves. Now there is a covering of the nerves known as the meninges, and we refer to this as meningo or meningio. This is where we get the term meningitis, which is inflammation of this covering. Sometimes the meninges are also referred to as a sheath, which is like a thick outer protective layer. The meninges include the dura mater, the arachnoid, and the Pia Mater. Together they make the meninges. So if something has to pass through this sheath, such as an injection like a spinal block, it would be given intrathecally, because theco is the combining form for the sheath of the meninges.

And like we do with every one of these lessons for our medical terminology, I want to cover some common terms. The term that describes deep sleep, is comato, which is where we get the term comatose.  When we see the word -esthesia, we’re actually referring to a nervous sensation or the sensation that someone would feel through their nervous system. Kineso or kinesis refers to movement so kinesiology would be the study of movement. Then you have lepsy, which is referred to seizures. So anytime you see the word lepsy, you should know that it would be associated with some sort of seizure activity. And lastly, phasia refers to speech. This is different than phagia which refers to swallowing. This is one of those homonyms that we really have to be careful when we enunciate when we spell it, and when we talk about context. The way I like to remember it is phasia has an “s” in it, which reminds me that it’s about speech.

So let’s recap. When we’re talking about medical terms in the brain, remember that we’re referring to divisions or lobes of the brain. When we talked about the spinal cord it’s often either related directly to the spinal cord Anatomy, or it’s based on the divisions.  medical terms about nerves focus on the covering of the nerves or the body of the nerves themselves. And finally those common terms, you’re going to need to practice them, but remember that they are pertaining to the symptom or the system in the nervous system.

And that’s it for a lesson today on neuro medical terminology. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best self today, and as always happy nursing!