Knowing yourself from inside out

I remember as a child being so upset when an older sister exclaimed, “your epidermis is showing!” I wasn’t sure whether to be embarrassed, angry or worried, and I surely didn’t know what action to take to prevent this horror.

If only I had known dermis was my skin and epidermis was the outer layer of skin. If only I had recognized that it was a rare moment of my being normal.

Even as an adult each of us is sometimes more overwhelmed by a health issue just because we fail to understand the terms used in its explanation.

We all know and try to avoid being caught with halitosis (bad breath). But if someone kindly suggested we had bromhidrosis, would we freak out or be insulted, or take action? This term refers to body odor, often caused by sweat glands which are divided into two types, apocrine and eccrine (two words for another day).

Many are familiar with the prefix hyper-, meaning higher, increased or excessive. Thus we see clearly the meaning of hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperglycemia (high blood glucose or sugar).

Hyperuricemia is an excess of uric acid (sometimes resulting in gout). Hypertrophy is a more general term referring to an increase in the size of an organ. This is also called hyperplasia, and this excess can be a precursor or initial stage of some cancers. Hyperopia is just a fancy way of saying farsightedness.

Since hyper- indicates high, it is fairly easy to see that hypo- indicates the opposite direction. If one is affected by hypoglycemia, he or she has too little sugar in his blood. If he has hypocalcemia, there is a low level of calcium in the blood. Hypoacidity refers to too little acid.

The prefix psycho- makes reference to the mind. A psychogenic disorder is a physical ailment believed to arise from emotional or mental stresses.

A psychosexual issue is the emotional aspect of sexual activity.

Some people scoff at a youngster’s problem with enuresis. For him, though, bedwetting is not a laughing matter. Perhaps it would be karma for the one who scorns someone with enuresis to be himself afflicted later in life with anuresis (an inability to urinate or simply a lack of urine).

With the basic Greek root rhino, meaning nose, the formality of rhinorrhea seems a bit heavy for the simple definition, runny nose. Rhoia is another Greek root, this one meaning to flow.

Initials sometimes draw our attention away from lengthy wording: IDDM stands for Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (Type 1). That is a lot of words, and even more definitions, but their meanings can be even more involved for one who has IDDM.

If an emergency technician tells you you have experienced an AMT, he is saying (not too directly) you have had an acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack).

Finally, the way I feel after looking over so many medical assertions is as though I’ve had a transient diaphragmatic spasm. At times even words can make one feel she has had the wind knocked out of her!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at

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