Hesperian Health Guides


This is a list of words used in this book that may be new to you, with an explanation for each one. Knowing what these words mean will help you use this book.

Words are listed in the order of the alphabet:



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

abortion When a person ends a pregnancy on purpose.

abscess A raised, red, painful lump on the skin that is filled with pus (for example, a boil).

abuse When someone hurts another person’s body (physical abuse), humiliates or insults a person (emotional abuse) or makes a person do sexual things against her will (sexual abuse).

access (to health services) When health services are available, and someone has the freedom, the money, and the time to use them.

accompanier Someone who provides health information and emotional, practical, or physical support to people, most notably people having abortions.

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.

addiction When the body feels a strong need for alcohol or another drug.

afterbirth See placenta.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) The serious stage of illness that develops for someone with HIV if they are not treated with antiretroviral medicines (ART). Also called advanced HIV disease.

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

anal sex When a penis, mouth, fingers, or objects touch or are inside the anus.

anemia A condition in which the blood lacks red blood cells. This makes it harder for the blood to carry nutrients through the body.

anesthesia General anesthesia is when you are given medicine to make you sleep during an operation so you will not feel pain. Local anesthesia is given as an injection to numb or block pain only in one part of the body.

antacid Medicines to lessen stomach acid and calm stomach upset. See heartburn.

antibiotic Medicine used to fight infection caused by bacteria.

antibodies Substances the body makes to fight infection.

antiretroviral therapy (ART) A combination of 3 or more antiretroviral medicines taken regularly, often every day, to treat and manage HIV.

antiretrovirals Medicines that can control HIV (but not cure it), making people with HIV able to stay healthy and live much longer. anus The opening of the intestine where waste (stool) leaves the body. The butthole.

anxiety Feeling nervous or worried.

appendicitis An infection causing swelling of the appendix. If the appendix bursts, it can be deadly.

appendix A worm-like sac attached to the large intestine.

areola The dark, bumpy area around the nipple.

artery A thin, tube-like carrier of blood away from the heart, through the body. Arteries have a pulse. Also called a blood vessel. Compare with vein.

arthritis Pain and swelling in the joints.

asthma A disease of the lungs, which causes attacks of difficult breathing, often with a hissing or wheezing sound when breathing out.


bacteria One kind of germ which causes many different infectious diseases. Bacteria are too small to see without a microscope.

bacterial vaginosis An infection of the vagina caused by bacteria, not spread by sex.

bag of waters The sac (or amniotic sac) inside the womb that holds the baby. When the sac breaks and releases fluid, this usually means that labor has begun.

balls See testicles.

barrier methods (of family planning) Methods of preventing pregnancy that stop the sperm from reaching the egg.

bile A liquid in the gallbladder that helps digest fatty foods.

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 canal See vagina.

birth control See family planning.

birth control pills A hormonal method of family planning.

bladder The organ in the abdomen that stores urine. It gets bigger as it fills with urine, and gets small after you pass urine.

blood clots Soft, dark red, shiny lumps in the blood.

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 one person’s blood is given to another person. It is slowly injected in a vein with a special needle to replace blood the person may have lost.

blurred eyesight When the eyes cannot see things clearly.

bowels See intestines.

brand name medicine The marketing name a company gives to a medicine they make. Compare with generic medicine.

breast exam Checking the breasts for lumps that might be a sign of cancer.

breast infection (mastitis) An infection in the breast that can be very painful. It may make it difficult for a baby to suck the nipple.

breech When a baby is born feet or buttocks first, instead of head first. This can be dangerous for the baby.

bronchitis An infection of the large breathing tubes in the lungs.


caffeine A drug found in coffee, tea, and cola drinks that causes the heart to beat faster and makes a person feel more awake.

calcium A mineral found in some foods that helps make bones and teeth strong.

cancer A disease causing cells to grow too fast. There are many kinds of cancers; some spread more quickly and are more dangerous than others.

cannula A small tube used with a syringe to suction out the contents of the womb.

cassava (manioc root) A starchy root grown as a food crop.

CD4 count This blood test measures how well a person’s immune system is working.

cell The smallest unit of living matter in the body. Our bodies are made of trillions of cells of different types (skin cells, blood cells, and others). Looking at cells with a microscope can find problems in the part of the body the cells come from.

cervix The opening of the womb into the vagina.

Cesarean section (c-section) When it is dangerous or impossible for a baby to be born through the vagina, the abdomen is cut open to take the baby out during this operation.

chemicals The substances that make up all living and nonliving things. How chemicals affect health is often understood if they have been in the world a long time. But for many newer manufactured chemicals, less is known. Some, such as medicines, are proven to be helpful and safe. Others, like some cleaners, pesticides, and pollution, are proven to harm health.

child spacing Having children at least 2 years apart so a person’s body has time to get strong again between pregnancies.

chlorine solution A chemical liquid that can be used to kill germs. Also known as bleach.

cholera A serious infectious disease with severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

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

circulation How blood flows through the arteries and veins in the body.

circumcision (of a penis) When the loose fold of skin at the end of a penis (the foreskin) is cut off.

circumcision (female genital cutting) When part or all of the vulva is cut off. It is sometimes called “excision.” Also see infibulation.

cleft lip An opening or gap on a baby’s upper lip, often connecting to the nostril.

cleft palate A split or abnormal opening in the roof of the mouth.

climax When the body reaches its peak of sexual pleasure. Also called orgasm.

clitoris The part of the vulva most sensitive to touch.

clots See blood clots.

cognitive delay When a child takes longer to develop their mental skills compared to other children their age.

cold sores See herpes.

colostrum The yellow-colored milk that comes from the breasts for the first 2 or 3 days after birth. It is very healthy for the baby and protects against disease.

community health workers Health workers who are members of the community they are helping. They often have special training and other experience to handle specific health problems.

complications Problems or things that go wrong, often needing more health care.

compost A mixture of plant and animal waste that is allowed to rot for use as a fertilizer. Hay, dead leaves, vegetable waste, animal droppings, and manure all make good compost.

compress A folded cloth or pad that is put on a part of the body. The compress may be soaked in hot or cold liquid.

condom (rubber) See external (male) condom and internal (female) condom.

consent When people willingly and freely agree to participate in sexual activity. It cannot be given by people who are too young, or are unconscious or asleep, or have had so much alcohol or drugs it affects their decisions.

constipation When a person has a difficult time passing stool.

contagious An illness that can spread from one person to another.

contaminated When medical supplies, food, or water contain harmful germs or toxic substances.

contraception (birth control) See family planning.

contractions (pains, labor pains) When the womb squeezes and becomes hard. Contractions open the cervix and push the baby out of the womb.

convulsion When all or part of a person’s body, especially arms and legs, is shaking or jerking uncontrollably. Convulsions may be a sign of seizures, epilepsy, eclampsia, or poisoning.

cord (umbilical cord) How the baby is connected from its navel (belly button) to the placenta.

counsel, counseling When a trained person helps you think about your situation or decisions you must make. For example, some people are trained especially to help people cope with HIV.

counting days method A family planning method in which someone counts the days of their menstrual cycle to find their fertile time, during which they avoid unprotected penis-in-vagina sex.

cramps A painful tightening of a muscle. Cramps are very common during menstrual periods and often start just before a period begins.

cryotherapy A treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix. cyst A sac-like growth inside the body that is often filled with fluid. It is not a form of cancer and most cysts have no signs.


date rape When someone is forced to have sex by a person they are seeing socially.

dehydration When the body loses more liquid than it takes in.

dementia A condition where a person has severe difficulty remembering things and thinking clearly.

dengue fever A serious illness caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes.

depression When a person loses interest in doing things, feels tired, and has a hard time concentrating and making decisions. Serious depression may lead to suicide.

diabetes When a person’s body cannot use sugars in the blood. Instead of giving energy, sugar builds up and damages the body.

diaphragm A family planning method in which a soft rubber or silicone cup, usually filled with spermicide, is worn over the cervix during sex.

diarrhea Passing 3 or more loose, watery stools in a day.

digestion When food is broken down by the stomach and intestines to be used by the body or to pass out of the body as waste.

disability When a person has a condition of the body or mind that makes it difficult for them to do certain activities of daily living.

discharge Wetness or fluids from a part of the body. In the vagina, discharge that is clear, milky or slightly yellow is normal. Discharge that has a bad smell or itches may be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection.

discrimination When a person or a group of people are treated badly or unfairly because they are different than others (for example, because their skin is a certain color, or they are female, old, young, or poor).

disinfection Cleaning tools and equipment to get rid of nearly all the germs.

divorce To legally end a marriage.

dizziness Feeling lightheaded or unsteady.

dose The amount of a medicine you should take at one time.

douche Washing out the vagina. This can irritate the vagina and make a person more likely to have yeast and other vaginal infections.

drugs Substances that affect a person’s mind and body, altering their mood, feelings, and behavior. Common drugs are alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine, among others.

dysentery Diarrhea with mucus or blood in it, usually caused by an infection.


eclampsia When high blood pressure during pregnancy causes a person to have one or more seizures with convulsions.

ectopic pregnancy A pregnancy that grows outside the womb. Most ectopic pregnancies happen in one of the fallopian tubes (see tubal pregnancy).

ejaculate When semen comes out of the penis, usually during sex.

embryo A fertilized egg is called an embryo between the second and eighth week after fertilization.

enema A solution of water put up the anus to make a person pass stool or to give fluids.

epilepsy A brain condition that causes a person to have seizures without a known cause. Other causes for seizures are brain injury, tumors, and infection.

erection When the penis gets hard, often because of sexual excitement.

esophagus A tube that connects the mouth and the stomach through which food goes down.

estrogen A hormone made by the ovaries that causes many changes during puberty and controls the menstrual cycle. It is also used in many hormonal methods of family planning.

examination (exam) When a health worker, nurse, or doctor looks at, listens to, or feels parts of the body to find out what is wrong.

exhaustion Extreme tiredness.

external (male) condom A close-fitting bag worn on the penis during sex to collect semen. This prevents pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Most are made of latex but other materials may be used.


fainting See loss of consciousness.

fallen womb See prolapsed uterus.

fallopian tubes Tubes that go from the ovaries to the womb. When the ovary releases an egg, it travels down one of these tubes to the womb.

family planning When people use methods to prevent pregnancy so they can plan when to have children.

fats Foods, like oils and butter, that give the body energy.

female condom See internal (female) condom.

fertile time The time in the menstrual cycle when someone can get pregnant. This time usually starts on about the 8th day of the cycle and lasts for about 11 days.

Fertility Awareness Methods Family planning methods that teach someone how to know their fertile time, so they can avoid unprotected penis-in-vagina sex then.

fertilization When an egg and sperm join to begin making a baby.

fertilizer A material used to make land be able to grow more crops.

fetoscope A tool for listening to the heartbeat of the baby inside the womb.

fetus A developing baby is called a fetus from 9 weeks after fertilization until birth.

fever When the body temperature is higher than normal, often because of infection.

fiber Part of some foods, including many beans, vegetables, fruits, and seeds. Eating foods with fiber helps the body pass stool.

fibroids Growths in the womb that can cause abnormal bleeding from the vagina, pain, and repeated miscarriage.

fistula A hole in the skin between the vagina and the urine tube or the vagina and rectum that causes urine or stool to leak from the vagina.

folic acid or folate A B-vitamin that helps make healthy red blood cells. It is especially important to eat enough foods with folic acid during pregnancy to prevent disabilities in the baby.

fumes Harmful chemicals in air.


gallbladderr A small, muscular sac attached to the liver. The gallbladder collects a liquid that helps digest fatty foods.

gallstones Hard material that forms in the gallbladder and can cause severe pain. gangrene When skin and tissue die because of a lack of blood to that area.

gauze Soft, loosely woven kind of cloth used for bandages.

gender discrimination See discrimination.

gender identity How a person thinks of themself —as a woman, a man, another gender, or no gender—and lives in the world. This can affect how a person dresses and acts in their community.

gender inequality People being treated differently because of gender. Gender inequality causes women to have less education, power, money and access to health services than men.

gender role The ways a community expects someone to act, look, think, and feel based on their gender.

generic medicine The common scientific name for a medicine that is the same no matter who manufactures it. Compare with brand name medicine.

genital herpes A sexually transmitted infection that produces sores on the genitals.

genital warts Growths on the genitals caused by some types of human papilloma virus (HPV) which can be passed during sex.

genitals The reproductive parts both inside and outside the body.

German measles See rubella.

germs Very small organisms that can grow in the body and cause some infectious diseases.

gland A small organ of the body that makes and releases a substance, for instance, hormones.

glaze The liquid coating on a clay pot that hardens when fired and keeps water from seeping through the clay.

goiter A swelling on the lower front of the neck caused by enlargement of the thyroid gland. This is most often because of lack of iodine in the diet.

groin Where the top of the thighs join the body.

gut thread A special thread for sewing or stitching tears from birth. The gut thread is slowly absorbed (disappears) so that the stitches do not need to be taken out.


health centers Places that provide a middle level of health care, usually in larger towns. Health centers may have trained nurses and doctors.

health posts A place that provides health care like immunizations, prenatal care, family planning, and health exams.

heartburn A burning feeling in the throat that is common in later pregnancy or after eating too much.

helper foods Foods that provide nutrition—like protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and sugar—which are needed in addition to the main food.

hemorrhage Heavy bleeding.

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. Some forms of hepatitis can be sexually transmitted.

herbicides Chemicals used to kill unwanted plants.

herpes Several diseases caused by different viruses that cause sores on the mouth or genitals. Herpes can be passed through sex.

high blood pressure When the force or pressure of the blood upon the walls of the arteries and veins is more than normal.

HIV (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) HIV attacks the immune system. Without treatment with ART, illnesses happen more often and become more serious, eventually causing AIDS and death.

hives Hard, thick, raised spots on the skin that itch severely. They may come and go all at once or move from one place to another. A sign of allergic reaction.

hookworm A parasitic worm that infects the intestines.

hormonal methods (of family planning) Methods to prevent pregnancy that use estrogen or progestin or both. These methods thicken mucus at the opening of the womb, keep the lining of the womb from supporting a pregnancy. and may prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs.

hormones Chemicals the body makes that tell it how and when to grow. Estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that cause many changes during puberty and control the menstrual cycle.

hospital A medical center with doctors, nurses, and special equipment for finding or treating serious illnesses.

human papilloma virus (HPV) A sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and some types of cancer including cervical cancer. Most types of HPV do not cause any signs.

hydrogen peroxide A chemical that kills germs, often used for cleaning wounds.

hymen A thin piece of skin that partially covers the vaginal opening. In some communities, a woman is no longer considered a virgin if her hymen is torn, even though it can be torn by activities other than sex.

hysterectomy An operation in which the womb is removed.


immune system The parts of the body that recognize harmful germs and fight infection.

immunization See vaccination.

implantation When the fertilized egg attaches to the womb wall at the beginning of pregnancy.

implants A family planning method in which 1 or 2 small tubes containing hormones are put under the skin.

impotence When the penis will not get or stay hard, making penis-in-vagina sex difficult.

incest Sexual relations between family members or relatives.

incision A cut made into the body.

incomplete abortion When part of a pregnancy remains in the womb after an abortion.

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 germs. Infections may affect part of the body or all of it.

infectious disease Diseases caused by germs or parasites that can be spread from one person to another.

infertility When a couple has had sex regularly for one year but have been unable to get pregnant. Someone who has had repeated miscarriages is also considered infertile.

infibulation A form of female genital cutting in which all or part of the vulva is cut away and the opening to the vagina is sewn almost closed. Deinfibulation is when it is reopened for birth.

inheritance The possessions, property, or money a person receives after someone dies.

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

inner folds The part of the outer genitals that lie just inside the hairy outer folds of the vulva. The inner folds are soft flaps of skin without hair that are sensitive to touch.

internal (female) condom A thin piece of plastic or rubber that fits into the vagina and covers the inner folds and outer folds of the vulva. The condom prevents sperm from reaching the egg and also prevents STIs from spreading.

intestines The part of the digestive system that carries food and finally waste from the stomach to the anus.

intimacy Sharing your private thoughts and feelings with someone.

intramuscular injection (IM) Injection deep into the muscle.

intra-uterine device (IUD) A small object that is put into the womb to prevent pregnancy.

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

iodine A mineral found in the ground and some foods that is needed for thyroid gland function and prevents cognitive delay in babies.

iron A mineral found in some foods that helps the blood carry oxygen.


jaundice Yellow color of the skin and eyes. This can be a sign of hepatitis or another liver problem.

joints Places in the body where bones come together.


kidneys Two large organs in the lower back that make urine as they remove waste from the blood.


labia Large and small folds of skin that are part of the vulva.

labor The work of birth, when the womb squeezes or contracts, making the cervix open, and the pregnant person pushes the baby down through the vagina and out of their body.

laboratory A place where trained health workers examine blood, urine, and other samples from people to identify medical problems and find the best treatment.

latex Thin rubber. Condoms and gloves used in health care are often made of latex.

latrine A hole or pit in the ground for passing urine or stool. A toilet.

laxatives Medicine used for constipation to make stools softer and more frequent.

lice Tiny insects that attach on the skin or hair of people and other animals.

ligaments Strong fibers in a person’s body that help hold muscles and bones in place.

literacy The ability to read and understand written information.

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

loss of consciousness When a sick or injured person seems to be asleep and cannot be awakened. Unconscious.

lubricants A slippery cream or jelly used to make dry surfaces wet. Lubricants are often used on condoms during sex.

lymph nodes Part of the immune system, these small lumps under the skin throughout the body trap germs. Infected lymph nodes become swollen and painful.


main food A food, usually low-cost, that is eaten with almost every meal. This main food usually provides most of the body’s daily energy. For good nutrition, the body also needs helper foods.

malaria An infection that causes chills and high fever, spread by mosquitoes. The mosquito sucks up the malaria parasites in the blood of an infected person and injects them into the next person it bites.

malnutrition When the body does not have enough of the foods it needs to stay healthy.

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

mastitis See breast infection.

masturbation Touching one’s own body for pleasure.

maternal mortality When someone dies from problems caused by pregnancy and birth.

medical abortion Using certain medicines to end a pregnancy.

membranes A thin layer of skin or tissue that either covers organs inside the body or lines other parts. For example, the sac that surrounds and protects the baby in the womb.

menopause When someone’s menstrual periods stop forever.

menstrual cycle The time, from 23 to 36 days, between the beginning of one menstrual period and the beginning of the next. About 2 weeks before the end of a menstrual cycle, an ovary releases an egg.

menstrual period (menstruation, monthly bleeding) When a bloody fluid leaves the womb and passes through the vagina and out of the body. For most people who menstruate, this happens every 23 to 36 days and lasts for a few days.

microscope An instrument that makes very tiny objects look larger.

midwife Someone with special training or experience in caring for people during pregnancy and birth.

migraines Severe headaches with blurred eyesight.

minerals Substances in foods—like iron, calcium, and iodine—that help the body fight disease and recover after injury or illness.

miscarriage When a pregnancy ends by itself during the first half of pregnancy, usually in the first 3 months.

monthly bleeding See menstrual period.

monthly cycle See menstrual cycle.

monthly period See menstrual period.

morning sickness When a pregnant person feels nausea, often during the first 3 or 4 months of pregnancy.

mucus A thick, slippery wetness that the body makes to protect the inside of the vagina, nose, throat, stomach, and intestines.

mucus method A family planning method in which someone checks the mucus in their vagina every day to find their fertile time, and avoids unprotected penis-in-vagina sex during this time.


nausea When a person feels sick to their stomach, as though they want to vomit.

navel A small, roundish place just below the waist where the umbilical cord was once attached.

nipple The center of the dark-colored part on the outside of the breast where milk comes out.

nonbinary A gender identity that is not “woman” or “man.” Nonbinary people may have a gender that combines some parts of being a woman and a man, or a gender that is different from being a woman or a man.

nutrition Good nutrition is eating enough food and the right kind of food so the body can grow, be healthy, and fight off disease.


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

oral sex When a person uses their mouth on a partner’s genitals to give the partner sexual pleasure.

organ A part of the body that is more or less complete in itself and does a specific job. For example, the lungs are organs for breathing.

orgasm See climax.

osteoporosis Weak bones that break easily. Osteoporosis is more common after menopause because the body makes less estrogen.

outer folds The fatty lips of the vulva that protect the outside genitals.

ovaries Small sacs about the size of an almond or very small grape, one on each side of the womb. Ovaries produce eggs that join with sperm to make a baby.

overdose Taking too much of a drug or medicine at one time. This can cause serious injury or death.

ovulation When an egg is released from one of the ovaries during the menstrual cycle.


Pap test A test in which some cells are scraped from the cervix during a pelvic exam and then examined under a microscope to look for early warning signs of cancer.

paralysis Loss of the ability to move part or all of the body.

parasites Tiny animals and worms that can live in a person or an animal and cause disease.

peer counselor Someone trained to talk with another person who shares a similar situation. For example, one young woman may counsel another young woman, or someone who used to drink a lot of alcohol may counsel a person who is trying to quit.

pelvic area The area of the body between the hips. This is where the reproductive parts are.

pelvic exam An examination of of the genitals inside and outside the body of a person who can become pregnant. A pelvic exam sometimes includes a speculum exam.

pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) An infection of the womb, tubes, and other reproductive parts, as well as other nearby organs. Also called pelvic infection.

penis A tube-shaped organ used for sex and to pass urine. The penis gets hard during sex and releases a fluid called semen that contains sperm.

pension fund A fund—often set up by a union, employer, or the government—that pays people when they get older and stop working.

period See menstrual period.

permanent methods (of family planning) Methods of preventing pregnancy that make people permanently unable to have children.

pesticides Poisonous chemicals used to kill insects that destroy food crops.

PID See pelvic inflammatory disease.

piles (hemorrhoids) Swollen veins around the anus, which can itch, burn, or bleed.

pimp A person, often a man, who finds clients for a sex worker and who often keeps all or part of the money the sex worker earns.

pimple A spot or small infected swelling that grows, often on the face, due to extra oil on the skin. Common in adolescents. Also called acne.

placenta (afterbirth) A spongy organ in the womb that gives the developing baby everything it needs to grow during pregnancy, connected to the baby 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.

pneumonia An infection of the small breathing tubes deep in the lungs.

polyps Growths found usually in the womb. Polyps are almost never caused by cancer.

post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) Short-term use of antiretroviral medicines to prevent getting HIV after exposure.

pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) Using antiretroviral medicines regularly to prevent getting HIV when a person is often exposed to it.

pregnancy in the tube See tubal pregnancy.

premature When a baby is born too early.

prenatal The time between getting pregnant and giving birth.

prenatal care Checkups during pregnancy, when a midwife or specially trained health worker examines a pregnant person to make sure the pregnancy is going well.

pressure sores (bed sores) Sores that form on the skin over bony parts of the body when a person lies or sits on that part for too long without moving.

prevent Stopping something before it starts.

PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission) The use of antiretroviral medicines to prevent HIV spreading to a baby before, during, and after pregnancy and birth.

privacy When a person gives information to a health worker, nurse, or doctor and knows it will not be overheard by or repeated to others.

progesterone A hormone made by the ovaries that causes many changes during puberty and controls the menstrual cycle.

progestin A hormone made in a laboratory that is similar to the progesterone made naturally by the ovaries. It is used in all hormonal methods of family planning.

progestin only pill A method of family planning that contains the hormone progestin but no estrogen.

prolapsed uterus When the muscles that hold up the womb become weak, causing it to “fall” (drop down) into the vagina.

proteins Body-building foods necessary for growth and strength.

puberty The time in a person’s life when their body grows and changes from a child’s body into an adult’s body. When most people become able to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy.

pubic bone The front part of the pelvic bones, just just above the vulva.

pulse The feeling of blood being moved through the arteries by the heart, which tells how fast the heart is beating.

purification Killing harmful germs in water before drinking it.

pus White or yellow fluid full of germs, often found inside an infected wound or area.


radiation Rays of energy given off by certain elements. Radiation is harmful because it kills cells in the body. But radiation can also be used to treat cancer by killing cancer cells.

radiation therapy When a machine sends rays of energy into a person’s body to kill cancer cells. The rays cannot be seen or felt.

rape When someone, usually a man, puts his penis, fingers, or any other body part or object inside another person’s vagina, anus, or mouth without consent.

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.

rectum The lower part of the intestine that connects to the anus.

rehydration drink A drink to treat dehydration. It can be made by combining boiled water and salt with sugar or powdered cereal.

resistance The condition of being able to withstand something that would normally be harmful or deadly. While healthy in people, it is very dangerous in bacteria and viruses. When germs become resistant to antibiotic or antiretroviral medicines, these treatments will no longer work against disease.

rubella (German measles) A disease spread by a virus that can harm a baby growing in the womb.

rhythm method See counting days method.


safer sex Avoiding direct contact with a sexual partner’s genitals, blood, semen, or vaginal wetness.

saliva Wetness in the mouth. Spit.

sanitation Public cleanliness to prevent disease, such as providing clean drinking water and keeping public places free of waste.

scabies A contagious skin disease caused by a parasite.

scar A mark or change in the skin or tissue left after a cut or wound has healed.

scrotum The sack of skin and muscles that hangs under the penis and holds the testicles or balls.

seizure Sudden, uncontrolled activity in the brain that causes an unusual, short-lived, physical or mental change. A person who has repeated seizures may have epilepsy.

self-esteem How someone feels about themselves, and about their role and value in their family and community.

semen The fluid released from the penis during ejaculation, which usually contains sperm.

sepsis A serious infection that has spread into the blood. Sepsis can be deadly.

sex trafficking When people are forced or tricked into being sex workers. They may be taken to a place where they have no legal rights, money, or way to get home, or they may be threatened with violence from the people they work for.

sex worker Anyone who exchanges sex for money or other necessities, goods, or services.

sexual abuse See abuse.

sexual assault Unwanted sexual contact.

sexual harassment When a person gives unwanted sexual attention to another person, often someone they have power over. This includes asking for sexual favors, making unwanted physical contact, pressuring someone to have sex, and sending unwanted sexual photos or messages.

sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Infections that can spread from one person to another during vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex. Some STIs are passed in body fluids like semen, while others are passed by skin-to-skin contact.

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 work the way they are meant to yet also cause problems such as an upset stomach or headache.

speculum A small hand-held tool that keeps the vagina open during a medical examination.

sperm Cells in semen that can swim through the vagina and womb to fertilize an egg in the fallopian tubes. This is how a pregnancy starts.

spermicide A contraceptive cream, gel or foam that helps prevent pregnancy by killing sperm.

sputum A gooey substance that settles in the lungs because of an illness like tuberculosis.

squeezing exercise An exercise to strengthen muscles that hold the womb inside the body and help a person control the passing of urine.

status The importance a person has in their family and community in comparison to others.

STIs See sexually transmitted infections.

sterilize To make something completely free from germs.

sterilization See permanent methods (of family planning).

stethoscope An instrument used to listen to sounds inside the body, like the heartbeat.

stomach The sac-like organ in the belly where the digestion of food begins.

stool The waste after digestion that passes from the anus during a bowel movement.

stress Pressure felt by the mind and body caused by activities, events, and social conditions.Too much stress can harm mental health.

stroke A sudden loss of consciousness, feeling, or ability to move or talk caused by bleeding or a clot preventing blood flow in the brain. A stroke is an emergency.

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

sugar Sweet foods, like honey or sugar cane, that give energy.

support groups When people with a common problem meet together to help one another.

surgery See operation.

syringe An instrument used to inject medicine.


tampons A plug of cotton, cloth or a sponge that is put inside the vagina to absorb blood from a menstrual period before it leaves the body.

temperature The measurement of a person’s body heat.

testicles Reproductive organs inside the scrotum that start making sperm and testosterone during puberty.

testosterone A hormone made by the testicles that causes many changes during puberty and controls the making of sperm.

tetanus A serious infection caused by a germ that lives the soil, and the intestines of people and animals. The tetanus germ enters the body through a wound.

thyroid gland A small organ in the front of the throat that makes hormones that affect growth and development. The thyroid needs iodine to work properly.

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

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

toxemia See eclampsia.

toxic A harmful substance that can cause disease or death when it enters the body is said to be toxic.

toxicity When a person takes too much medicine and it builds up to a dangerous level in the body.

traditional healers Healers who use methods based on beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

transgender Someone whose gender identity or gender role is different from what is typical or expected for their sex (female or male) based on their genitals at birth.

trauma The harm to health caused when something terrible happens to a person or to someone the person is close to.

trichomonas A disease of the genitals that is passed during sex.

tubal ligation An operation in which the fallopian tubes are cut or tied so the egg cannot be fertilized or travel to the womb.

tubal pregnancy A pregnancy that implants and grows in one of the fallopian tubes instead of in the womb.

tuberculosis A serious infection caused by a germ that usually affects the lungs.

tubes See fallopian tubes.

tumor Abnormal growth.


ulcer A chronic open sore of the skin, the stomach, or the intestines.

ultrasound A machine that uses sound waves to see inside of the body without cutting it open. Often used during pregnancy to see the developing baby.

unconscious See loss of consciousness.

unprotected sex Penis-in-vagina sex without a condom.

unsafe sex Direct contact with a sexual partner’s genitals, blood, semen or vaginal wetness—if there is any chance you or your partner has a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

urethra The tube that carries urine from the bladder to the hole a person urinates from.

urine Liquid waste that collects in the bladder and leaves the body through the urethra.

Uristix Small plastic strips that have different squares that change color depending on what is in a person’s urine. These can be used to find out if a person has diabetes or pre-eclampsia.

uterus See womb.


vaccinations or vaccines Medicines that are injected to protect against specific diseases, such as tetanus, measles, or hepatitis.

vagina (birth canal) A tube made of muscle that connects the cervix to the vulva.

vaginal sex Sex that involves penetration of the vagina with a penis, mouth, fingers, or other objects.

varicose veins Abnormally swollen veins—often blue, lumpy, and winding—on the legs of older people, pregnant people, and people who have had a lot of children. During pregnancy, also sometimes develops in the genitals.

vasectomy A permanent method of preventing pregnancy, in which the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis are cut.

vein A thin, tube-like carrier of blood back to the heart. A blood vessel. Compare with artery.

virgin A person who has not had sex.

virus A germ smaller than bacteria which causes some infectious diseases.

visual inspection A method of screening for cancer of the cervix. A vinegar solution (acetic acid) is painted on the cervix and turns abnormal tissue white.

vitamins Part of the nutrition from food that the body needs to work properly, to fight disease, and to heal after a sickness or injury.

vomiting When contents of the stomach come back up and out of the mouth. Throwing up

vulva In a person who can become pregnant, all the genitals that can be seen on the outside of the body between the legs.


withdrawal Physical and emotional discomfort felt during the period when the body adapts to being without a drug or alcohol to which it is physically addicted.

womb (uterus) A hollow organ with muscular walls that sits in the pelvic area. Menstrual periods come from the womb, and a fetus grows inside the womb during pregnancy.


x-rays Pictures of the inside of the body, such as the bones or the lungs, created by a machine that uses radiation. The body is not cut open.


yeast infection A vaginal infection with white, lumpy discharge, itching, and burning. These infections are especially common during pregnancy and when taking antibiotics.