Alumni Testimonial #6 - Medical Terminology for Interpreters - Top Terms You Should Know!

May 23, 2023

Jassely Rotolo Testimonial Video

Medical terminology is difficult to understand and constantly evolving. In order to stay on top of the field and administer the best possible care, health care practitioners constantly update their knowledge. Medical interpreters are also expected to understand medical language and medical concepts and to keep their knowledge current. 


Without current knowledge and precise interpretation, a medical interpreter could accidentally put the patient at risk. Interpreting information between doctors, nurses, or other health care providers and patients in varying health care settings is a demanding and important job. Here’s how you can keep your knowledge updated - and your patients informed. 

medical interpreter

Confusing Medical Terminology for Interpreters

Some terms sound so similar it can be easy to confuse them. Other terms describe similar conditions, but it’s critical to choose the precise terms to describe them. The keys to choosing the right term are often context and experience. 

Medical terms that sound very similar:


  • Dysphagia and Dysphasia
    • Dysphagia - is a condition that makes swallowing difficult. Patients with dysphagia have trouble eating or drinking. Symptoms include coughing, choking, and being unable to swallow certain or all food and drinks.
    • Dysphasia - is a brain injury that affects the communication center, making it difficult or impossible to communicate.


  • Hypertension and Hypotension
    • Hypertension - is high blood pressure, a dangerous condition that can lead to severe health complications. People with hypertension are at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and even death.
    • Hypotension - is the opposite, low blood pressure (less than 90/60). In most cases, low blood pressure is not life threatening, but severe cases can deprive the brain and other vital organs of oxygen and nutrients, and result in shock.


  • Psychosis and Sycosis 
    • Psychosis is a symptom of mental disorder where people are disconnected from reality and see, hear, and believe things that aren’t real. It is usually caused by illness, substance abuse, extreme stress, or trauma.
    • Sycosis is pronounced exactly the same way, and is a chronic inflammation of the hair follicles caused by bacteria and most often found in beards.


  • Electrocardiogram and Echocardiogram
    • An Electrocardiogram (EKG) is a medical test that records the electrical activity in the heart to check irregularities in heartbeat. An Electrocardiogram (ECG) is the same test. 
    • An Echocardiogram is a heart echo test that uses ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) to produce pictures of the heart's valves and chambers to help sonographers evaluate the pumping action of the heart.


  • Palpation and Palpitation
    • Palpation is the medical term for a doctor using his hands to check for broken bones, internal damage, tumors, or other issues inside the body.
    • Palpitation is a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heartbeat and is usually not serious.


  • Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism
    • Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland. This condition can accelerate the body's metabolism, causing rapid or irregular heartbeat and marked weight loss.
    • Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland. When the thyroid gland can't make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally and affect multiple body systems. Symptoms include exhaustion, brain fog, weight gain, hair loss, and infertility. Left untreated, it can lead to serious complications and death.


  • Sprain and Strain
    • A sprain is when ligaments are stretched or torn.
    • A strain is when a muscle or a tendon is stretched or torn. Similar conditions and equally painful, but not the same.


  • Peroneal and Perineal
    • Peroneal is the outside of the calf.
    • Perineal is the pelvic floor (male or female).


  • Vesical and Vesicle
    • Vesical is a term that relates to the urinary bladder.
    • A Vesicle is a small blister or bubble under the skin filled with fluid. It may be a blister, sac, cyst, or vacuole.


  • Ileum and ilium  
    • The Ileum is a section of the small intestine that connects the jejunum and the colon.
    • The Ilium is the big upper part of the pelvic bone.


  • Cervical
    • The term cervical might relate either to the cervical bones in the neck or to a woman’s cervix, the opening of her uterus, very different parts of the human body.


  • Coronavirus and Covid-19
    • While the media often uses the terms interchangeably, they are not the same. Coronavirus is a type of virus characterized by the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus cell. SARS, MERS, and Covid-19 are all coronaviruses.


Medical Interpreting Continuing Education

If you’re bilingual and interested in a career in medical interpreting, it’s vitally important to keep your education up to date and your career on an upward trajectory with ongoing interpreter training and certifications. That’s where we can help. 

We offer many levels of training programs, continuing education, and medical specialty education, including:



Medical terminology for interpreters is a rapidly changing field. New treatments, therapies, and discoveries are constantly added to the knowledge base. Professional interpreters have the added responsibility of translating from the English language to the target language.


Maintaining current knowledge of medical terminology is critical to communicating with patients who are non-English speakers or who have limited English skills.

medical interpreter books

Best Books, Dictionaries, and Resources for Medical Interpreters



Keeping your medical interpretation skills up to date can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. Patients depend on you for accurate information about their conditions and their care. Since information affects patient outcome, your expertise often provides the bridge to connect patients and health care providers on the road to good health. Start your medical interpreter career today! 

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