Medical Terminology – Diagnosis

By Thomas Bjørkan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Medical Terminology – Diagnosis

Hello and welcome back to Medical Terminology Corner!

I would like to bring your attention to the most common word in medical, clinical (concerned with- or based on- actual observation and treatment of disease in patients rather than experimentation or theory), and theoretical science:

The word is diagnosis (diagnoses – plural).

So, what is diagnosis and why do we need to know the diagnosis?

di·ag·no·sis /dīəɡˈnōsəs/


dia– prefix that means complete and gnos/o is a root word for knowledge.

Diagnosis literally means complete knowledge.

The identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.

“early diagnosis and treatment are essential”

synonyms: identification, detection, recognition, determination, discovery, pinpointing

“the diagnosis of celiac disease”


opinion, judgment, verdict, conclusion

“the results confirmed his diagnosis”

During a recent Grand Rounds, I’ve heard this amazing statistic: there are 7000 known diseases, yet we have cures and treatments for only 500 of them.

Without diagnosis patient cannot get an appropriate medical care and treatment.

One of the most critical components of clinical medical science is differential diagnosis: The process of weighing the probability of one disease versus that of other diseases possibly accounting for a patient’s illness.

In short: Determination of which one of the several diseases with similar symptoms is the cause of patient’s suffering.

For example: The differential diagnosis of rhinitis ( rhin/o– root word for nose and –itis –suffix for inflammation) or simply a runny nose, includes allergic rhinitis (hay fever), the abuse of nasal decongestants, nasal cysts or polyps and, of course, the common cold and many more.

The differential diagnosis for headaches includes tension headaches, high blood pressure (BP), migraines, brain mass or malformation (faulty or anomalous formation or structure), injuries, and many more.

As medical interpreters we should have an idea about a care provider’s way of thinking and arriving to this or that conclusion while finalizing the diagnosis.

I’m a big fan of the TV series “House”.  If you saw it – you know what I’m talking about.  If you did not, you must see it. The show is about a brilliant physician with terrible bed side manners and his team of great doctors who solve difficult medical cases in each episode. This show will give you a glimpse of how providers minds work and how they come to their conclusions about a patient’s diagnosis as well as an understanding of the process of differential diagnosis at work.

Last time we discussed a diagnosis of exclusion. Let me remind you that a diagnosis of exclusion (per exclusionem) is a diagnosis of a medical condition reached by a process of elimination, which may be necessary if presence cannot be established with complete confidence from history, examination. or testing.

The true diagnosis of exclusion should be defined as the diagnosis that rests solely on clinical grounds, with no means of objective proof. By that definition, the diagnosis of exclusion becomes nothing more than an ongoing educated guess.


Rita Galin
Supervisor, Russian Interpreter at UMHS Interpreter Services
Rita was born in Estonia, but her native language is Russian. She has a medical degree from Tartu State University (Tartu, Estonia), one of the oldest universities in Europe. She completed an internship in Neurology and Neurosurgery, attended and completed Adolescent Pathophysiology courses in Continuing Medical Education Institute, and worked as a Neurologist at the Adolescent Outpatient Clinic in Tallinn, Estonia. Rita’s clinical interests are in Adolescent Neurologic Pathophysiology as well as Young Adult Psychology.

Rita has worked for the University of Michigan Health System since 1995 as a Medical Interpreter, and was one of the first two staff Medical Interpreters at UMHS. She has presented on Cultural Specifics and Differences between medical systems in the former Soviet Union and the US. She has assisted in the creation of a video training on clear communications with LEP patients through an Interpreter for medical students at UMHS.

Rita is one of the creators of and the only instructor of the UMHS Interpreter Services course Medical Terminology and Body Systems, a 40-hour training that is national accredited by CCHI. She is also a member of the Diversity at the End of Life Committee at UMHS.

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