Hesperian Health Guides

List of difficult words

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > List of difficult words


Here is a list of words that may be difficult to understand. Knowing what these words mean can help you use this book better.

Some of the explanations here in this vocabulary also contain words written in slanted letters. This is because an explanation for these words can also be found in this list.

This vocabulary is listed in the order of the alphabet and you can click on the letters here to a specific letter or you can scroll down the page:


abdomen The part of the body that contains the stomach, liver, guts, and reproductive organs. The belly.

abnormal bleeding Bleeding that is different from what is usual, natural, or average. Not normal.

access When health services and other public services are available, and the services are easy for a woman with a disability to get to and use.

acute When something happens suddenly, lasts for a short time, and is usually serious or strong—for example, acute pain or acute infection (compare with chronic).

afterbirth See placenta.

allergy, allergic reaction, allergic shock A problem—such as itching, sneezing, hives or rash, and sometimes difficulty breathing or shock—that affects certain people when specific things are breathed in, eaten, injected, or touched. Allergic shock is a severe form of allergic reaction.

antibiotic Medicine used to fight infection caused by bacteria. (Antibiotics DO NOT fight infections caused by viruses.)

antibody A substance the body makes to fight infection.

antiretrovirals Medicines used to help people with AIDS stay healthier and live longer. They do not cure AIDS.

atrophy A progressive wasting or weakening of the muscles that comes from a problem in the nerves (compare with dystrophy).


biopsy When a piece of tissue or fluid is taken from somewhere on or in the body and examined to see if it is healthy or diseased.

birth control See family planning.

birth defects Physical problems, or problems with understanding or learning, that a child is born with.

birth spacing Using family planning methods to space your children.

blood pressure The force or pressure of the blood upon the walls of the blood vessels (arteries and veins). Blood pressure varies with the age and health of the person.

blood transfusion When someone’s blood is given to another person, in a vein and using a special needle, to replace blood the person may have lost.

brand name The name for a medicine that is given by the company that makes it. Compare with generic.


caliper An aid which gives support to a weak or injured leg. Another word for ‘brace.’

cancer A serious disease that causes cells to change and grow in an abnormal way, causing growths. Cancer can affect many different parts of the body. cell The smallest unit of living matter in the body.

chart A file where information about a person’s illnesses and treatments is kept.

chronic Something that lasts for a long time, or that occurs often. Compare with acute.

contaminated When medical supplies or food contain harmful germs.

contracture Reduced range of motion in a joint, often due to muscle shortening.

convulsion An uncontrolled seizure, ‘fit.’ A sudden jerking of part or all of the body.


date rape When a woman is forced to have sex by a man she is dating or courting.

douche Washing out the vagina. This can cause harm because it washes out the natural healthy wetness in the vagina.

dystrophy A progressive muscle weakness that comes from a problem in the muscles themselves (compare with atrophy).


enema A solution of water put up the anus to make a person pass stool or to increase the amount of fluid in the body.

estrogen A female hormone.


family planning When a woman uses methods to prevent pregnancy so she can have the number of children she wants, when she wants them.


gang rape When someone is raped by more than one man.

gender role The way a community defines what it means to be a woman or man.

generic The name of the main ingredient in a medicine. Compare with ‘brand name.’


hemorrhoids Small, painful bumps or lumps at the edge of the anus or inside it. They are a type of swollen veins that may burn, hurt, or itch.

hepatitis A serious disease of the liver caused by a virus, bacteria, alcohol, or chemical poisoning. Some forms of hepatitis can be sexually transmitted.

home remedies Traditional ways of healing.

hormones Chemicals the body makes that tell it how and when to grow. Estrogen and progesterone are the most important hormones for women.


immunization See vaccination.

infant formula Artificial milk for babies used instead of breast milk. Infant formula and other replacement foods do not have the same nutrition or health benefits as breast milk.

infection A sickness caused by bacteria, viruses, or other organisms. Infections may affect part of the body or all of it.

injections When medicine or other liquid is put into the body using a syringe and needle.

intramuscular injection (IM) Injection deep into the muscle.

intravenous (IV) When medicines or fluids are put into a vein.


jaundice Yellow color of the skin and eyes. Jaundice can be a sign of hepatitis or of newborn jaundice.


ligament Tough strips or bands inside the body that hold joints and bones together. Ligaments join bones with other bones, while tendons or cords join bones with muscles.

liver A large organ under the lower right ribs that helps clean the blood and get rid of poisons.


massage A way of touching the body to relieve pain, tension, or other signs. Massaging the belly can help the womb contract and stop heavy bleeding after birth, miscarriage, or abortion.

midwife Someone with special training or experience to help a woman give birth.


nerves Thin fibers along which messages travel in the body. Nerves are the ‘messengers’ of the body. Some nerves let us feel things, and tell us when something hurts. Other nerves let us move parts of the body when we want to.


operation When a doctor makes a cut in the skin in order to repair damage inside, or to change the way the body functions.

orthopedic Aids, procedures, or surgery to help with the prevention or correction of injuries or disorders of the bones and skeletal system, and associated muscles, joints, and ligaments.


paraplegia Paralysis or loss of movement in the muscles of both legs (sometimes with slight involvement elsewhere) caused by disease or injury to the spinal cord.

physical therapist, physiotherapist A person who designs and teaches exercises and activities for people with physical disabilities.

placenta (afterbirth) A spongy organ in a woman’s womb that gives the baby everything it needs to grow during pregnancy. The baby is connected to the placenta by the cord. After the baby is born, the placenta also comes out of the womb.

plant medicines Flowers, leaves, roots, and other parts of plants that can be used to treat diseases.

progesterone A female hormone.

progestin A hormone made in a laboratory that is similar to the progesterone made naturally in a woman’s body. It is found in some hormonal family planning methods.

pus White or yellow fluid that is filled with germs, often found inside an infected tear or wound.


quadriplegia (tetraplegia) Paralysis or loss of movement in the muscles of both arms and legs caused by disease or injury high up in the spinal cord, close to or in the neck.


rectal exam Checking the rectum for growths or other problems. A rectal exam can also give information about the wall or lining of the vagina.

resistance The ability of something to defend itself against something that would normally harm or kill it. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can become resistant to the effects of certain medicines, especially antibiotics and antiretrovirals, so these treatments no longer fight disease.


scar A cut or wound that leaves the skin or tissue rough and raised after it has healed.

scrotum The bag between a man’s legs that holds his testicles or (‘balls’).

seizures See convulsion.

sepsis A serious infection that has spread into the blood.

shock A dangerous condition with severe weakness or loss of consciousness, cold sweats, and fast, weak pulse. It can be caused by dehydration, heavy bleeding, injury, burns, or a severe illness.

side effects When medicines or hormonal methods cause changes in the body other than those needed to fight disease or prevent pregnancy.

spasticity Uncontrolled tightening or pulling of muscles that make it difficult for a person to control her movements. Spasticity often occurs with cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, or brain damage.

stress The result of activities or events that put pressure on a woman, causing tension in her body and mind.

stroke A sudden loss of consciousness, feeling, or ability to move caused by bleeding or a clot inside the brain.

subcutaneous injection An injection into the fatty tissue under the skin, not into the muscle.

syringe An instrument used to inject medicine.


temperature The degree of heat of a person’s body.

thermometer An instrument used to measure how hot a person’s body temperature is.

tissue The material making up the muscles, fatty areas, and organs of the body.

toxemia A dangerous condition during pregnancy, which can lead to convulsions.


vaccinations or vaccines Medicines that are injected to give protection against specific diseases like tetanus.

Velcro The brand name of a strong, fuzzy plastic tape that sticks to itself. (The surface of one piece of the tape has little plastic hooks that catch onto the curly hairs on the other piece of the tape.) Useful to use instead of buttons, buckles, or laces on clothes, braces and shoes—especially for people with limited use of the hands.


weight-bearing Supporting the weight of the body on a particular joint or limb. For example, weight-bearing on the knee is possible if the strength of the thigh muscle is good, but not if it is poor.


x-rays Pictures of parts of the inside of the body, such as the bones or the lungs, which are created by rays sent through the body. The body does not need to be cut open.