06.06 Digestive Terminology

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Digestive System
  1. Divisions of the Digestive Tract
  2. Peristalsis, Digestion & Excretion
  3. Common Digestive System Terms

Nursing Points


  1. Divisions of the Digestive Tract
    1. Main Digestive Tract
      1.  Mouth
        1. Dentition – dent/i or odont/o
        2. Tongue – gloss/o
        3. Cheek – bucc/o
      2. Esophagus – esophag/o
      3. Stomach – gastr/o
      4. Small Intestine
        1. Duodenum – duoden/o
        2. Jejunum – jejun/o
        3. Ileum – ile/o
        4. Cecum – cec/o
      5. Large Intestine – col/o or colon/o
        1. Sigmoid colon – sigmoid/o
      6. Rectum – rect/o or proct/o
      7. Anus – an/o or proct/o
    2. Accessory Organs
      1. Liver – hepat/o
      2. Gallbladder – cholescyst/o
      3. Pancreas – pancreat/o
      4. Appendix – append/o
  2. Peristalsis, Digestion & Excretion
    1. Enzymes – -ase
    2. Starch – amyl/o
    3. Bile – bil/i
    4. Bilirubin – bilirubin/o
    5. Sugars – glyc/o or gluc/o or glycogen/o
    6. Excretion – -chezia
    7. Meal – -prandial
    8. Digestion – pepsia
  3. Common Digestive System Terms
    1. Orange/yellow – cirrh/o
    2. Intestine – enter/o
    3. Face – faci/o
    4. Groin – inguin/o
    5. Abdomen – lapar/o
    6. Lower Jaw (mandible) – mandibul/o
    7. Peritoneum – peritone/o
    8. Pylorus – pylor/o
    9. Mouth – stomat/o
    10. Stone – lith/o
    11. Protein – prote/o
    12. Fat – steat/o
    13. Flow/Discharge – -rrhea
    14. Vomiting – -emesis


In this lesson we’re going to cover the medical terms that deal with the digestive system.

The digestive system is a really complex system and it has a lot of things going on. Starting at the mouth the medical terms deal with structures like the teeth, the tongue, and the cheeks. The teeth can often be referred to as denti or odonto, the tongue is often referred to as glosso, and we refer to the cheek as bucco.

As we move down the digestive tract we enter the esophagus and the stomach.  We’ll see the terms esophago to refer to the esophagus, and gastro for the stomach.  So for instance gastritis is inflammation of the stomach. After we leave the stomach we’ll go into the small intestine which is broken down into its three main structures, the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. As you can see here the duodenum is duodeno, the jejunum is jejuno, and ileum is ileo. At the end of the ilium is the cecum which is a pouch.  The medical term that you’ll see for this is ceco. One of our favorite terms here that we love to use is esophagogastroduodenoscopy, which is literally scope from the esophagus that enters the stomach and finally examines the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum. In most hospitals you’ll see this referred to as an EGD. But it’s more fun to say esophagogastroduodenoscopy.

When we’re talking about the  large intestine it is often called colo or colono, and the sigmoid colon is referred to as sigmoido. You’ll see this in terms like sigmoidoscopy because it’s very specific to the sigmoid colon. With rectum and anus you can use the word procto to describe both, but recto is very specific to rectum and ano is very specific to anus.

Now we can’t forget about the accessory organs to the digestive system. Now in the liver, this is referred to as hepato. An example of this is hepatopathy which is the condition of the liver. Hepato is for liver and pathy is a condition of.

Moving on to the gallbladder you can see that we use the word cholecysto to refer to the gallbladder. So for example, a cholecystectomy would be a surgical removal of the bladder. Remember that ectomy is a surgical removal of something, and cholecysto refers to the gallbladder.

Now with the pancreas we use the term pancreatic, so a pancreatitis would be inflammation of the pancreas. Because itis means inflammation.

And finally there’s the good old appendix. We  use the term appendo to refer to the appendix, so in an appendectomy, it would be the surgical removal of the appendix.

Because the GI tract has a lot of things going on with it there are also other medical terms that are specific to the GI tract that reference the process of peristalsis, digestion, and excretion.

We can always recognize an enzyme because it will end in the suffix ASE or – ase.  This will make more sense in a minute. If we look at the term for starch it’s amylo.  If we remember what enzymes do it said they break stuff down. So the enzyme amylase is an enzyme used to break down starches. Now if we look at words like bile and bilirubin, they’re very similar, but the thing you got to remember is that bilirubin has the rubin in it. So for example excess bilirubin in the blood would be hyperbilirubinemia.

Now there are a couple of different terms that you can use for sugars, words like glyco, gluco and glycogeno.  The difference between the last one and the others is that glycogeno refers to the production of, because we have to remember that gen  means to produce or the origin of. Something that’s glycogenic is something that produces sugar from the beginning.

A couple of other terms that you may want to remember are -chezia, prandial and pepsia. Hematochezia is the excretion of bright red stool, because hemato – means blood.  Sometimes some lab tests will be referred to as pre-prandial or postprandial, and all it means is that something is before or after a meal. And finally pepsia refers to digestion itself, so a patient with dyspepsia has a painful digestion, or it’s a painful reaction to food being eaten.

Now I know that we’ve covered a lot already, but these are some other terms that you may commonly see with digestion or  the digestive tract. So cirrho is actually orange or yellowing, so a patient with cirrhosis has a condition that causes them to appear yellow. Another term that you may see is entero, so enteric disease would refer to a disease of the intestines and that’s usually the small intestine. Another term that you may see often is laparo, like a laparoscopy, this is a procedure that is done with the scope that enters the abdomen.

A couple of other terms that you may see are  litho, which means “stone” and you may also see this in the genitourinary lesson as well because stones can form in the kidneys.  So, for example cholelithiasis are gallstones. Another term that you may want to pay attention to is emesis, which in itself means vomiting. So if we use emesis as a suffix and we attach another combining form like hemato, you would get hematemesis,  which is the vomiting of blood.

So let’s recap. We’re focusing on the structure of the GI tract, we want these words to focus on the digestive system itself. We also need to be mindful of  function when using medical terminology and this is going to include digestion, peristalsis and excretion. Remember that medical terms focus on a main GI tract, so this is the mouth of the stomach and intestines, and it also includes accessory organs like the liver pancreas and gallbladder. Remember there’s a lot of stuff in the GI tract and it’s really important that you practice these medical terms so that you can get them down and you can talk about the GI system like a pro.

That’s it for a lesson on medical terminology for the digestive system. 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!