Medical Terms They Use

This site gives no medical advice or endorsement. However it might be useful to run through some medical terms used related to dystonia to help us all understand the jargon.
Here is what I have learned from searches in medical dictionaries, dictionaries and textbooks. I am not a doctor. For more details of course consult your own doctor.

General medical terms

ambulatory            patient can walk in and walk out of treatment area

atrophy             in muscles is wasting of muscles due to loss of tissue

causal               acting as a cause

chronic             persisting for a long time, constantly recurring

clinic                 place for treatment of nonresident patients, for outpatients

curative             serving to cure or heal, treatment that remedies

discharged             officially allowed to leave a hospital

disease             illness caused by infection or health problem not by injury or accident

disorder            a disruption to regular body structure and function

dystrophy             in muscles is weakness that reduces mobility

efficacy              ability to produce desired result

etiology            cause

exogenous            caused by factors from outside the organism

idiopathic            from obscure or unknown cause

indicators            observable changes, health details

local                 restricted to one spot

neural               related to nerves and nervous system

palliative            care in serious illness to relieve symptoms and stress

refractory            does not respond well to current treatment

remission            decrease or disappearance of signs or symptoms

signs                 objective evidence others can observe – eg. rash, lump

symptoms            subjective reports only patient can give- eg. pain, fatigue

syndrome            collection of signs and symptoms with specific health cause

systemic            affecting the entire body

toxicity degree of being poisonous or harmful

virulent            extremely toxic or harmful


acquired            not inherited or present at birth

akinesia            loss or impairment of voluntary movement

apraxis             motor disorder with difficulty planning to perform tasks

ataxia               disease of the nervous system

atheotosis            abnormal muscle contractions, involuntary writhing

atrophy            reduction in size of cell, organ or tissue

axial                 in central part of body, head and trunk not limbs

ballismus            disorder with muscle weakness, involuntary and uncoordinated movement

benign              not harmful, cannot spread to other cells, not cancer

blinking closing and opening eyes rapidly, mostly involuntary

bradykinesia   slowness of movement

chorea             irregular, unpredictable movements

congenital            present at birth

contract            to shorten, reduce in size, muscle has more tension

contracture             more permanent tightening and stiffening of muscle tendons, skin

distal muscle             farther away from the centre of the body

dorsal               on the back

dysarthria            speech disorder where muscles are damaged or weakened

dysphagia            difficulty swallowing

extension            straightening- increases angle between two bones

flexion              flexing- bending, decreases angle between two bones

hemorrhage            escape of blood from a ruptured blood vessel

hoarseness            abnormal voice changes -eg, breathy, raspy, change in pitch or loudness

hyper                high, above normal

hyperkinetic   excessive abnormal involuntary movements

hypertonia            too much muscle tone -eg arms, legs stiff and difficult to move

hypo                 lower than normal

hypokinetic             partial or complete loss of muscle movement

hypotonia            muscle weakness, decreased muscle tone

kinesigenic            involuntary body movements triggered by voluntary muscle activity

malignant            having cancerous cells that are growing

myoclonus             quick involuntary muscle jerks – eg hiccups

myopathy            disease affecting muscles and voluntary movement

nausea              urge to vomit, stomach queasiness

osteoarthritis            inflammation, breakdown, loss of cartilage in joints

osteoporosis            thinning of bones, reduced bone mass

paralysis            loss of motor function of a muscle, sometimes loss of sensation

paresis              weakness of muscle movement, still has some control

paroxysmal            suddenly acute, worsening symptoms

peripheral            away from the centre of the body

plegia               paralysis or stroke in part of the body, loss of voluntary movement there

proximal             closer to the centre of the body

rigidity              stiffness, inflexibility, muscle can’t relax. sometimes less range of motion

sensory             taking nerve impulses to central nervous system from eyes, ears, nose etc

spasm               sudden involuntary contraction of muscle

spasmodic            having sudden involuntary muscle contractions

spastic              muscles stiffen or tighten, remain contracted, can’t move fluidly

sporadic            occurring at irregular intervals, scattered, isolated

superficial            on the surface, shallow, not deep

tardive              late in appearing, does not happen immediately

tone                  in muscles, ability to hold posture – partially contract, resist stretch

torsion              twisting- one part  tends to turn and the other is still or pulls the other way

tremor              involuntary rhythmic muscle contraction leading to shaking

ventral              abdominal

Types of specialists dealing with dystonia

endocrinologist            doctor who treats hormonal imbalances

ENT surgeon                ear, nose and throat surgeon

epidemiologist               doctor who studies patterns of disease and injury in the population

layngologist                   doctor who treats disorders of larynx or voice box

neurologist                    doctor who treats disease of brain, spinal cord, nerves, muscles

neuropsychologist         doctor who treats nervous disorders and how people feel, think, act

neurosurgeon                doctor treating brain, spine or nervous system often by surgery

occupational therapist person who helps the injured or ill with skills for daily tasks

ophthamologist            doctor who treats eye disease, performs surgery, prescribes glasses

orthopedist                   doctor who treats bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles

osteopath                     doctor who treats the whole person not just a disease

pathologist                    doctor studying blood. fluids, tissues, cause and nature of disease

pharmacist                    person who dispenses medication and advises about use

pharmacologist            researcher of chemical process who creates and tests new medicine

physical therapist            person helping people with physical challenges exercise and cope

psychiatrist                   doctor treating people with emotional, mental behavioral problems

psychologist                  person who studies mental processes and human behavior

psychopharmacologist  researcher studying substances affecting mood, thought, behavior

recreational therapist  person working with people to enable meaningful leisure

social worker                person helpsothers develop skills to handle difficult life situations

speech language pathologist studies science of speech and helps treat problems with it

Clinical exam these are some measurements that might be used

Primary depression scale PDS

Purdue anxiety index

Toronto Western Spasmodic Torticollis Rating Scale TWSTRS

Unified Dystonia Rating Scale UDRS

Brain aspects studied

acetylcholine            neurotransmitter to contract muscles, slow heart, increases body secretions

dopamine            brain hormone, neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and motor control

endorphins            body chemicals that relieve stress and pain

epinephrine            adrenaline, in emergency constricts blood vessels, helps breathe

excitatory            causes action- eg. when released it causes muscles to contract

GABA             neurotransmitter to block impulses between nerve cells in brain

glutamine            amino acid made in muscles that helps immune system and healing

inhibitory            keeps some things from happening, reduces or blocks action

neurotransmitter            message carrier from nerve cell to muscle, nerve or gland

norepinephrine             stress hormone released into the blood

serotonin                      chemical between nerve cells. mood stabilizer, helps digestion

Tests – imaging

brain map            using information about the brain to make a map of the brain

CAT scan            computed axial tomography- X rays make 2D or 3D image of body part

CT scan            computed tomography- X rays make 2D or 3D image of body part

EEG                 electroencephalogram – test of electrical activity in the brain

EMG                electromyographic analysis -measures muscle and nerve cell activity

MRI                 magnetic resonance imaging -uses magnets & radio waves to study organs

PET                 positron emission tomography scan- studies tissue and organ function

tomography            uses waves to make images of sections of the body

ultrasound            uses high frequency sound waves to make images of the body

x-ray                electromagnetic wave is used to make image of inside of body

Treatments – injections 

what is injected

cortisone                      steroid to relieve pain and inflammation

botulinum toxin             blocks nerve activity in muscles temporarily

nerve block                  injection near nerve to prevent or control pain

steroid                          compound reducing swelling, may reduce immune system activity

types of botulinum toxin 

(there are types A-G but only A & B are often used in medicine)

botulinum neurotoxin  powerful toxic protein that can in small doses treat muscle spasms

botulinum toxin type A

botulinum toxin type B

trademark names of botulinum toxin:

Botox TM              onabotulinumtoxinA – 1995

Dysport TM             Azzalure TM  abobotulinumtoxinA 2016

Myobloc TM             rimabotulinumtoxinB -2000

Xeomin/TM            BocoutureTM -incobotulinumtoxinA 2009

Jeuveau TM            prabotulinumtxoinA -2019

where is injected

cervical neck

epidural            at any level of spine- eg. neck, mid back, lower back

intramuscular         within a muscle

lumbar              lower back

sacral               tailbone

subcutaneous            under the skin

thoracic            mid back

Treatments – pills

acetaminophen            an analgesic to treat pain

agonist                          activates production of a substance

analgesic                       pain reliever

antagonist                     suppresses production of a substance

anti nausea                    prevents or eases nausea or vomiting

anti-anxiety                   may block some chemical production, reduces anxiety

antibiotic                       inhibits growth of or destroys microorganisms

antidepressant               balances brain neurotransmitters to affect mood and emotion

antihistamine                 relieves symptoms of allergies or reaction to insect bites

antihypertensive             used to lower blood pressure

antipsychotic                 mood stabilizer, relieving symptoms of delusion, hallucination

antispasmodic               relieves muscle spasms

atypical             not usual

baclofen                       muscle relaxer for pain, spasms, stiffness

benzodiazepine            sedative or tranquilizer to slow body functions

cannabinoid                  compound found in cannabis

narcotic                        addictive drug reducing pain, altering mood

neuroleptic                    reduces nerve tension and nerve function

NSAID                        nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

opioid                           often addictive drug to relax body, relieve pain

Treatments –  stimulation

DBS                 deep brain stimulation  implants electrodes in brain to affect function

ECT                 electroconvulsive therapy- electric current in brain to change chemistry

TENS             transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – low current, on skin, for pain

TMS                transcranial magnetic stimulation – magnetic field stimulates brain cells

Some (sort of funny) areas of possible confusion for nonmedical people like myself

acute                does not mean ‘a cute’ but serious

admitting           does not mean confessing, but allowed in

Botox®              is not a name for all injections . It is a brand name

certified             does not mean the slang use of crazy but having a certificate

cervical             is not about the cervix womb but about the neck

comorbidity           two or more medical problems at once (not buddy for gruesomeness)

DBS                 is not short for dibs, having first pick at the cake or seating

discharged          does not mean the gun shot off, but allowed to leave hospital

essential tremor     does mean you must get some

executive function      does not mean what the boss does

expression of a gene     does not mean its gestures and mood

imaging is not about attractiveness or street cred

inhibition            does not mean shyness

IV                     is not a person

lab                     is not a dog and may not be a place producing chemicals

locomotion          is not about a train, but ability to move from one place to another

medical may be about pills not about health treatment

mobility             does not mean getting a job promotion or a new house

morbidity            does not mean macabre or deadly but amount of suffering

muscle tone       is not about music or skin color

nuclear             is not the bomb

radiology          is not about radios

registered           does not mean checked in

sensation            does not mean awesome, but hearing, tasting, smelling

systemic            does not mean planned well, systematic, but spread through the system

(We patients enter this medical world like tourists. There may be a special time zone in the world called ‘hospital time’ where everything slows down…But they’re trying.  Maybe that is why it is called ‘medical practice’ Gotta love em. ..Sigh)