Glossary of terms

We want the information we provide to be clear and easy to understand. We’ve put together a glossary of medical terms used on our website.



Abdomen: The tummy area from the lower ribs to the pelvis.

Abdominal: Of the abdomen.

Abortion: Ending a pregnancy using either medicines (medical abortion) or an operation (surgical abortion).

Acute: a disorder or symptom that comes on suddenly and needs urgent treatment.

Acute Renal Failure (ARF): acute renal failure occurs in previously normal kidneys following events such as crush injuries, heart failure or infection, and is usually reversible.

Adenomyosis: Endometriosis in the muscle wall of the uterus.

Adhesions: Scars that connects two or more body structures together.

Aftercare: Your care after you leave hospital such as consultations and physiotherapy visits, removal of stitches, change of dressings and medication.

Allied Health Professionals (AHPs): Practitioners who provide healthcare and treatment to help rehabilitate patients. 13 of the 14 AHPs are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with Osteopaths regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOC).

Anaemia: A condition when the level of haemoglobin, the protein in blood which carries oxygen round the body, is lower than normal. See Anaemia.

Anaesthesia: A medical way of relieving pain.

Anaesthetist: A doctor trained to administer anaesthetics.

Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that needs immediate treatment.

Angiography: special type of X-ray used to look at blood flow.

Antenatal (prenatal): Before birth.

Anthracyclines: Antibiotic drugs used in cancer chemotherapy.

Antibiotics: Medicines to fight an infection caused by bacteria.

Antibody: Blood protein that helps fight attacks on the immune system, such as those caused by bacteria and viruses.

Anticoagulant medication: Medicines to reduce clotting in the blood vessels.

Antigen: A substance in the blood that helps trigger the immune system to develop antibodies.

Anti-inflammatory drugs: Medicines to stop or reduce swelling and redness.

Antiretroviral drugs/therapy: Medicines used to block the action of retroviruses (such as the HIV/AIDS virus) and the progress of infection.

Antispasmodic drugs: Drugs which relieve cramps or spasms of the stomach, intestines, bladder and womb.

Anus: The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.

Autoimmune response: When the body produces antibodies which react against the body’s own tissues.



Bacteria: Tiny organisms that may cause certain infections.

Biopsy: The taking of a small sample of tissue for examination.

Bladder training: A way of teaching your bladder to hold more urine. It helps to reduce the number of times you need to pass urine and reduce urgency.

Bladder: The organ in the pelvis which stores urine before it is passed out through the urethra.

Blood group: The way blood is classified by proteins (known as antigens) on the surface of your red blood cells.

BRCA: The name “BRCA” is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person's chances of developing cancer.

British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS): An organisation dedicated to safety and education in cosmetic surgery and represents most Consultant Plastic Surgeons in private practice.

British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS): An organisation that raises awareness of the breadth of plastic surgery, to promote innovation in teaching, learning and research of plastic surgery.

British Medical Association (BMA): the professional body for doctors and medical students in the UK.



Cancer: The general term used to describe a disease of the tissues or cells (tumour) which could be in many different parts of the body. See bladder cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, melanoma skin cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, testicular cancer.

Cardiac arrest: heart failure.

Cardiac: to do with the heart.

Care Quality Commission (CQC): The regulator of all health and social care services in England. The commission ensures the quality and safety of care in hospitals, dentists, ambulances, and care homes, and the care given in people’s own homes.

Carotid: relating to the two main arteries carrying blood to the head and neck.

Catheter: A small tube that can be passed through a part of the body, for example through the urethra (to empty the bladder).

Cell: The tiny building blocks which make up the organs and tissues of the body.

Cervical screening: An internal swab test to check your cervix is healthy. It is sometimes called a smear test.

Chemotherapy: the use of chemicals to destroy cancer cells or slow down cancer growth. See Chemotherapy.

Cholesterol: The name for a group of blood fats. It includes LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which is ‘bad’ cholesterol; HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which is ‘good’ cholesterol; and triglycerides (TG). A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for heart attack and indirectly increases your risk of stroke.

Chronic medical condition (long-term)/chronic: A disease, illness or injury that has one or more of the following characteristics: it requires ongoing or long-term monitoring through consultations, examinations, check-ups, and/or tests; it needs ongoing or long-term control or relief of symptoms; it has no known cure; it comes back or is likely to come back.

Chronic: Something that persists or continues for at least six months.

Complementary therapy: Treatments and therapies that are not part of conventional medicine. Examples include acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Complications: Problems that develop after an operation, treatment or illness.

Condition: A state of being, like being healthy or fit, or having a problem, such as a heart problem.

Consultant: A registered medical or dental practitioner who holds or has held a substantive NHS Consultant's post, or has a certificate of Higher Specialists Training in the relevant specialty issued by the appropriate Royal College or General Medical Council.

Continence: Having full control of the bladder and/or bowel. See also stress incontinence.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD): a general term to describe diseases of the heart.

Corticosteroids: A group of hormones which may be used to suppress the body’s immune response or to reduce inflammation.

Critical care: Treatment carried out in a resuscitation room, intensive care or high dependency unit, which requires the specialist care, supervision and support of intensive care specialists.

CT scan: A computerised tomography (CT) scan is a non-invasive medical test that can help look for signs of inflammation, disease or cancer, and monitor many other health conditions. It uses specialised X-ray equipment and a computer to create images of the inside of your body.



Daycase treatment: A patient who is admitted to a hospital or daycase unit because they need a period of medically supervised recovery but does not occupy a bed overnight.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): A blood clot that forms in a deep vein.

Dermatology: medical treatments concerned with the skin and skin conditions.

Diabetes: A condition caused by high levels of glucose (a form of sugar) in the blood. The amount of glucose in your blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin. See also Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2 below. See diabetes.

Diabetes – Type 1: A serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high because your body can't make a hormone called insulin, which controls blood glucose. See Type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes – Type 2: A serious condition where the insulin your pancreas makes can’t work properly, or your pancreas can’t make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose levels are too high it can cause a variety of health problems for you. See Type 2 diabetes.

Diagnosis: The way a medical professional recognises a condition or disease.

Diagnostic tests: Tests or investigations such as X-rays, blood tests and ECG tests to find the cause of the symptoms.

Dialysis: purification or filtering of the blood to remove harmful elements when kidneys, which normally perform this function, have failed.

Discharge letter: A letter a hospital doctor sends to a GP once treatment has finished telling the GP what has been done. The patient should be given a copy.

Disease: An abnormal condition in the body causing harm.

Dysmenorrhoea: Painful periods. See period pain.

Dyspareunia: Pain during or after sexual intercourse. See pain during sex.



Elective: used to describe operations, procedures or treatments that are planned rather than carried out in an emergency.

Embolisation: the formation of a blood clot, an air bubble, a fatty deposit or other object obstructing a blood vessel.

Endometriosis: A condition where cells of the lining of the womb (the endometrium) are found elsewhere, usually around the pelvis and near the womb. See endometriosis.

Endoscopy: the insertion of a tube-shaped instrument called an endoscope into a body cavity, to investigate or treat various medical problems.

ENT: stands for ear, nose and throat, and relates to their treatment.

Enzyme: A protein found in cells that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.

Epidural: An anaesthetic injection into the space around the nerves in your back to numb the lower body.



Fertility drugs: Treatment to encourage the ovaries to produce an egg. It is used during treatment for infertility.

Fertility problem/infertility/subfertility: When a couple fail to conceive after having regular sexual intercourse for more than a year. ‘Regular’ is defined as two or three times a week. See infertility.

Fertility: The ability to conceive a baby and, for a woman, to become pregnant.

Fibroids: Non-cancerous growths that develop in the muscle (myometrium) of the womb (uterus). A woman can have one fibroid or many, and they can be of different sizes. See fibroids.

Fistula: the joining of an artery and a vein, usually in the arm, as a suitable, permanent access point for haemodialysis (haemodialysis is the removal of waste products or poisons from the blood using dialysis).

Fixed price treatment: an all-inclusive price for your treatment covering all costs after your initial consultation. This includes all the pre-assessment tests, cost of the treatment, consultant and anaesthetist fees, nursing care, medication and food and any standard prosthesis.

Foetal medicine specialist: A doctor who specialises in the growth, development, care and treatment of an unborn baby.



Gastroenteritis: Inflammation of the stomach and intestines, usually resulting in diarrhoea or vomiting.

Gastrointestinal: Relating to the stomach and intestine.

General Medical Council (GMC): the organisation that licenses doctors to practice medicine in the UK.

Genetic: Relating to, caused or controlled by genes.

Genital herpes: Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes sores around the genitals and anus. See also herpes.

Genital warts: Genital warts are small, non-cancerous growths that appear on or around the genitals or opening of your bottom (anus). They’re also known as anogenital warts. See genital warts.

Genitals: The sexual organs: in a woman, the vagina and vulva; and in a man, the penis and testicles.

GP (General Practioner): a doctor providing primary care services, usually providing the first point of contact for NHS patients.

Graduated elastic compression stocking: An elasticated stocking which helps reduce swelling from deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Guideline: Recommendations for good medical practice. They help patients and their medical teams make decisions about care, looking  at the best evidence available about care or treatment for a particular condition.

Guide price: A treatment price that shows what most patients who pay for their own treatment should expect to pay for treatment. The price may vary depending on consultant, type of anaesthetic, implant or drug used, and may also vary due to your medical history.

Gynaecology: healthcare that focuses on women's reproductive systems.



Haematologist: A doctor who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the blood.

Haemolysis: Breaking down of red blood cells in the body.

Haemorrhage: Very heavy bleeding.

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC): is a regulator of health and care professions in the UK. Professions include Chiropodists / podiatrists, Dietitians, Occupational therapists, Paramedics, Physiotherapists and Speech and language therapists.

Health Inspectorate Wales: A public organisation that regulates and inspect NHS services and independent healthcare providers in Wales.

Health Improvement Scotland: A public organisation part of the Scottish National Health Service regulating health and social care.

Heparin: A type of anti-coagulant medication that is given by injection.

Herpes: A family of viruses which cause a range of infections including chickenpox (Herpes zoster, or varicella), cold sores and genital herpes (Herpes simplex). See herpes.

High-dependency unit (HDU): A ward or area in a hospital that provides care for people who need intensive observation or treatment.

Hormone treatment: The use of hormones to treat disease or to replace hormones no longer produced by the body.

Hormones: Naturally occurring substances made in the body which control the activity of normal cells. They include oestrogen and progesterone.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT is the use of hormones to treat symptoms related to low levels of hormones in the body.

Human papillomavirus (HPV): A common viral infection passed between people through skin to skin contact. A few types of HPV can cause cell changes that may develop into cancer.

Hyperprolactinaemia: A disorder which increases the normal level of the hormone prolactin. It can cause irregular periods and fertility problems.

Hypertension: Raised blood pressure.

Hypotension: Low blood pressure.

Hysterectomy: An operation to remove the cervix and womb, carried out through a cut on the abdomen (abdominal hysterectomy) or the vagina (vaginal hysterectomy). See hysterectomy.

Hysteroscopy and endometrial biopsy: A small operation which opens the entrance to the womb (cervix) to remove tissue from the lining of the womb (the endometrium). See hysteroscopy.



Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN): The representative body for independent sector healthcare providers of services ranging through acute, primary, community, clinical home healthcare, diagnostics and dental.

Immune system: The way the body defends itself against infection, disease and outside substances.

Immunity: Protection against infectious diseases through the action of the immune system. You can become immune to some diseases by catching them. Vaccinations also provide immunity.

Immunotherapy: Treatment to prevent or change the response of the immune system.

Incontinence: Not having full control over the bladder and/or bowel. See also stress incontinence.

Infectious: Conditions which can be passed from person to person by micro-organisms like viruses or bacteria.

Infusion: A way of putting a drug or fluid into the bloodstream through a needle at a steady rate over a period of time.

Initial consultation: this is your initial appointment with your consultant.

Inpatient: A patient who is admitted to hospital and who occupies a bed overnight or longer for medical reasons.

Intensive care unit (ICU): A specialist unit within a hospital that provides extra care for seriously ill people.

Interstitial cystitis: Inflammation of the bladder wall.

Intrauterine system (IUS): A small T-shaped contraceptive device that is fitted into the womb. Made of plastic, it slowly releases the hormone progestogen.

Intravenous drip (IV drip): Fluids put into a vein to rehydrate the body. Drips contain different combinations of minerals and chemicals, for example sugar and carbohydrate to provide extra energy.

Invasive: A medical procedure when a cut is made to the body or an instrument is inserted.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A chronic disorder involving abdominal pain, bloating and changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea. It is caused by an overactive bowel. See IBS.



Joint school: This is a programme offered by physiotherapy teams to people who are having hip or knee replacement surgery. It focuses on patient information from preparing for admission through to recovery at home.



Kidney: The body’s two kidneys keep fluids balanced by filtering the blood. Waste products are then excreted as urine.



Laparoscopy: Keyhole surgery involving up to four small cuts in the abdomen. A telescopic microscope (called a laparoscope) is inserted into the body to help diagnosis or treatment.

Laparotomy: A cut up to 14 inches long giving surgeons access to the abdomen.



Meningitis: Inflammation in the brain caused by a virus or bacteria.

Menopause: The time when a woman’s periods stop, usually around 50 years of age.

Minimally invasive: Minimally invasive surgery is a surgical procedure performed through tiny incisions instead of a large opening. This type of surgery will most likely lead to a quicker recovery time and less pain than traditional open surgery.

Miscarriage: The unplanned ending of a pregnancy before 23 completed weeks.

MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging): A scanner that uses magnets and radio waves to produce both two and three dimensional pictures of inside the body. It’s suitable for every part of the body, including bones, soft tissues and the brain.

Musculoskeletal: The body’s support structure: the bones, ligaments, joints and muscles.



National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE): a UK public body to advise on the effectiveness of healthcare and treatments.

National Joint Registry (NJR): The National Joint Registry collects information on joint replacement surgery (eg hip, knee, ankle and shoulder) and monitors the performance of joint replacement implants for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Neoplasm: any abnormal new growth of tissue or tumour.

Nephrology: the early detection and diagnosis of renal (kidney) disease and the long-term management of its complications.

Neurology: study and treatment of nerve systems.



Obstetrician: A doctor who specialises in the care of pregnant women.

Oedema: Swelling in any part of the body.

Oestrogen: A female sex hormone produced by the ovaries as part of the menstrual cycle. It encourages an egg to mature and prepares the womb for a pregnancy.

Outcome: Evaluation or results of a medical assessment.

Outpatient: A patient who attends a hospital, consulting room or outpatient clinic and is not admitted as a daycase patient or an inpatient.



Paediatrician: A doctor who specialises in the care of babies, children and teenagers.

Pelvic examination: A check to feel the size and position of the womb and other reproductive organs to rule out any abnormality or problem.

Pelvic floor muscles: Layers of muscle which support the bladder and other organs in the pelvis.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): An infection in the womb, fallopian tubes and/or pelvis caused by infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Pelvic pain: Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis.

Pelvic: Of the pelvis.

Pelvis: The bony structure at the lower part of the abdomen.

Physiotherapy: Special exercises and physical activities to improve body function and strength.

Pituitary gland: A gland in the brain that produces hormones.

Planned treatment: Admission to hospital by means of a waiting list or direct Consultant referral - not from the hospital Accident and Emergency unit or following a request for immediate admission on the advice of a GP or Consultant.

Platelets: Specialised cells necessary for blood clotting.

Policy documentation: The insurance contract set out and agreed between the policyholder and the health insurance provider).

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A condition which can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility, hormones and aspects of her appearance. It can also affect long-term health. See Polycystic ovary syndrome.

Pre-authorisation: Approval given either orally or in writing by the Society prior to any treatment taking place, as a guarantee that we will meet your treatment costs as part of an eligible claim – providing you are still paying premiums at the time of treatment.

Pre-eclampsia (also known as toxaemia): A condition that occurs in the second half of pregnancy, associated with high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN): an independent organisation that publishes independent, trustworthy information on private healthcare providers to help patients make informed treatment choices.

Progesterone: A hormone produced as a result of ovulation. It prepares the lining of the womb to enable a fertilised egg to implant there.

Progestogen: A synthetic hormone, similar to progesterone. It thickens the mucus around the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to get into the womb or for a fertilised egg to implant in the womb.

Prolapse: Where the bladder, womb or bowel pushes through the wall of the vagina.

Prosthesis: An artificial device such as a joint replacement and bone fixation, heart valve, pacemaker, stents, grafts and meshes, which are implanted by a Consultant specialist during a surgical procedure.

Proteinuria: Protein in the urine.

Pubic, pubis: The area around the bone at the front of the pelvis.

Pulmonary embolus: Part of a blood clot (DVT) which breaks off and travels in the blood stream and becomes stuck in the lung.

Pulmonary: to do with the lungs.



Radiology: the use of X-rays and radioactive substances for diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Radiotherapy: the use of high-energy radio-waves to destroy or shrink cancer tumours. Also known as teletherapy.

Rectocele: When the rectum bulges into the weakened wall of the vagina. A lump may be seen or felt.

Rectum: The part of the large intestine which stores solid waste until it leaves the body through the anus.

Related condition: Any symptom or condition, disease, illness or injury which is considered to be associated with, caused by or the source of another condition.

Renal: to do with the kidneys.

Reproductive organs: The parts of the male and female body needed to create and sustain a pregnancy.

Risk: The chance that an activity or hazard will give rise to harm. Risk is generally given in terms of numerical odds (1 in 10) or percentages (10%).

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG): The professional body which oversees the medical education, training and examination of obstetricians and gynaecologists in the UK and internationally.



Specialised scans: This term describes scans such as MRI and CT scans, PET scans, Myelogram, Thallium scans or Perfusion/Ventilation scans

Sutures: Stitches.

Symptom: A specific medical sign of a condition, illness or disease.



Tachycardia: A rapid heart beat.

Telemedicine: the use of communication systems, such as television screens, to help provide diagnosis and medical advice when the patient doctor are not in the same place.

Testosterone: A male hormone that occurs in small amounts in women and can be used as a part of hormone replacement therapy

The Patients Association: An independent advice group that aims to improve patients' experience of healthcare.

Thrombolysis: the dissolving of a blood clot.

Thrombophilia: A blood clotting abnormality which tends to run in families, whereby the blood is more likely to clot than usual.

Thrombosis: A clot in a blood vessel.

Trauma: the effect on the body of a wound or violent impact.

Triage: a system which sorts medical cases in order of urgency to determine how quickly patients receive treatment, for instance in accident and emergency departments.



Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves used to provide images of the body, tissues and internal organs.

Urethra: The tube through which urine empties out of the bladder.

Urethracele: When the tissues that hold the urethra in place weaken, causing it to move and put pressure on the vagina, sometimes pushing through the wall of the vagina.

Urodynamics: Tests to assess how the bladder is working.

Urology: Medical treatment that concerns the urinary system.

Uterus (also known as womb): The organ where a baby develops during pregnancy. Made of muscle, it is hollow, stretchy and about the size and shape of an upside-down pear. It sits between the bladder and the rectum in a woman’s pelvis.



Vascular: to do with the arteries and veins carrying blood around the body.

Vein: A blood vessel that takes blood towards the heart.

Venous thrombosis: A blood clot that forms in a vein.

Virtual consultation: A virtual consultation is a video or telephone appointment, which allows you to speak to a consultant or private GP to discuss your health concerns without having to travel to a hospital.

Virus: A micro-organism which invades living cells in order to grow or reproduce. Viruses cause many infections, from the common cold, chickenpox and measles to HIV.



Womb: See uterus.



X-ray: part of a group of technologies collectively known as radiology. Used to produce images from inside the human body.