A To Z list of Medical Issues
Our A-To-Z list of medical issues, complaints and procedures listed below detail various medical conditions and procedures which, if performed negligently, may give rise to a claim in *medical negligence.
Please contact us in confidence for expert advice specific to your own situation. Strict time limits apply and it is important that to contact us without delay.
Abdominoplasty: An abdominoplasty is more commonly referred to as a ‘tummy tuck’. It is a cosmetic surgery procedure that removes excess skin and fat from the tummy and tightens the abdominal muscles. It is intended for those who wish to improve the shape and appearance of their tummy which may have been adversely affected by weight gain, weight loss or pregnancy.
Abscess: An abscess is when pus collects into a hard, painful lump. This occurs as a result of a bacterial infection. An abscess may develop at the root of a hair or blocked sweat gland (a skin abscess), or anywhere inside the body (an internal abscess). A small abscess may drain itself, but otherwise antibiotics will be required to fight the infection. Large abscesses may require surgical drainage.
Aesthetic genital surgery: Aesthetic genital surgery refers to a number of different cosmetic procedures used to improve the appearance of the vagina. The most common procedures include labiaplasty (to reduce the size of the labia) and vaginal tightening (to tighten the vaginal wall).
Amputation: Amputation is when a body part is surgically removed. This will usually be a limb, such as an arm or a leg. Amputation will be necessary if the body part has sustained a serious traumatic injury, has been badly affected by gangrene, or it poses a danger to the person’s life (for example, because it is infected or cancerous).
Analgesic: An analgesic is the medical term for pain-relieving medication. Common analgesics include paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Aneurysm: An aneurysm is when the wall of a blood vessel bulges outwards due to a weakness in the blood vessel wall. This can happen anywhere in the body, although it commonly affects the brain and the aorta (in the heart). An aneurysm will not necessarily lead to any symptoms, but life-threatening problems will arise if it ruptures.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics are a type of medication used to treat or prevent bacterial infections. They cannot be used to treat viral infections, while some bacterial infections have become resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic medication can be administered orally, intravenously or topically. One of the most common types of antibiotics is penicillin.
Anticoagulant medicines: Anticoagulant medication is used to limit the blood’s ability to clot. This will be required if the blood clots too much, rather than just when the body is wounded. Unnecessary blood clots will block the blood vessels, which can be potentially life-threatening. Patients deemed at risk of developing a blood clot should be prescribed anticoagulants as a preventative measure. The most common types of anticoagulant medication are aspirin and warfarin.
Antihistamines: Antihistamine medication is used to treat a variety of allergies, including hay fever, eczema and allergic conjunctivitis. An allergic reaction happens when the immune system mistakes a harmless substance (like pollen) for a dangerous one, sending a chemical called histamine to fight it off. Antihistamine medication temporarily blocks the effects of histamine, limiting the impact of the immune system’s reaction.
Appendicitis: Appendicitis is an acute bacterial infection inside the appendix (the small pouch attached to the large intestine). It is not entirely clear why appendicitis occurs, but it will cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. The appendix must be surgically removed before it becomes too swollen or it will rupture, leading to a serious infection of the abdomen called peritonitis.
Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope. It is used to diagnose certain conditions, most commonly cancer. There are different ways of doing a biopsy, depending upon the area of the body. For example, during a cervical smear, cells are scraped from the cervix, whereas during an excisional biopsy a section of tissue is surgically removed.
Blepharoplasty: Blepharoplasty is a type of cosmetic surgery used to remove excess skin, muscle and fat from the eyelids. Usually referred to as eyelid surgery, this procedure is recommended for people suffering from droopy eyelids or bags under their eyes, a problem commonly associated with the ageing process.
Blood clot: When the body sustains a cut, the clotting agent in the blood thickens and clumps together, preventing excessive bleeding. However, sometimes the body will create a blood clot when it is not needed. There are certain factors that increase this risk, including obesity, cancer, pregnancy and heart disease. The blood clot will then prevent the flow of blood in the vein, or the clot will become dislodged and travel around the body. This can be very dangerous, especially if the blood clot reaches a major organ such as the lungs or brain.
Blood pressure: Blood pressure is the measurement used to assess how much pressure is placed upon the walls of the arteries when blood is pumped round the body. There are two different measurements that are used to assess the level of blood pressure: firstly, systolic pressure, which measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries when your heart beats, and secondly diastolic pressure, which measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries when your heart rests in between beats.
Brain haemorrhage: A brain haemorrhage refers to bleeding on or in the brain. This can happen due to a traumatic accident or when an aneurysm bursts. There are different types of haemorrhage which are defined according to the location of the bleeding. Subdural and extradural haemorrhages usually occur due to a traumatic injury, while subarachnoid haemorrhages will arise due to an aneurysm.
Breast augmentation: A breast augmentation is a type of cosmetic surgery in which implants are inserted into the breasts to enhance their size and shape.
Breast reduction: Known medically as reduction mammoplasty, a breast reduction is a surgical procedure used to reduce the weight and size of the breasts.
Bunion: A bunion is bony prominence at the side of the foot. It happens when the big toe angles inwards (which may occur due to poorly fitting shoes or genetic factors), causing the joint at the base of the big toe to stick outwards. This can be very painful and can make wearing shoes difficult. Bunions can be managed conservatively with bunion pads, but surgery is the only way to correct the deformity.
C Difficile: C Difficile (or C Diff) is short for Clostridium Difficile. As a bacterial infection that affects the digestive system, it commonly occurs in a healthcare environment such as a hospital. C Diff bacteria live naturally in our gut without causing any problems because the ‘good’ bacteria are there to counteract it. But if this balance is upset perhaps due to antibiotics the C Diff bacteria will be free to multiply and release toxins. This will lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
Caesarean section: A caesarean section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby. An epidural is administered so the mother cannot feel anything below her chest but is still awake. The surgeon then cuts through the tummy and the wall of the uterus and pulls the baby out. A C-section may either be elective (when it is arranged in advance of the birth) or an emergency (where a vaginal delivery is attempted but complications during labour mean it is safer to proceed with a C-section).
Cancer: Cancer is when the cells in a particular area of your body divide uncontrollably. This leads to a mass of extra cells known as a tumour. This will destroy the surrounding tissue, while some cells may break off and spread to other parts of the body via the blood and lymph system. Cancer can happen anywhere in the body and there are over 200 different types, with breast, lung and bowel cancer being amongst the most common in Ireland.
Cannula: A cannula is a tube inserted into the body for the delivery or removal of fluid. A common example is a venous cannula, where a cannula is attached to a needle which is then inserted directly into a vein. Medical staff can administer intravenous medication and fluids and take blood samples via the cannula.
Carcinoid tumour: A carcinoid tumour is a type of cancerous tumour that develops in the skin or in tissues that line/cover the internal organs. Most carcinoid tumours will occur in the gastrointestinal tract for example in the intestine, lungs and rectum.
Cardiac arrest: A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood around the body. This will usually happen because of ventricular fibrillation whereby the electrical activity in the heart becomes so chaotic it upsets the normal rhythm of the cardiac muscles. This will cause the ventricles to quiver, rather than contract properly, preventing the flow of blood. A cardiac arrest can also happen due to a lack of oxygen, blood loss and a blood clot in the coronary arteries. It can be fatal and must be treated with an electric shock through the chest with a device known as a defibrillator. A cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is often abbreviated to CPR. It is a first aid procedure that can be employed when someone has stopped breathing or their heart has stopped. It involves compressing the chest above the heart with the heel of a hand. If the person giving CPR has been trained, these chest compressions can be interspersed with rescue breaths, which is when air is given mouth to mouth.
Cardiovascular disease: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term that refers to any disease of the heart or circulatory system. This includes coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease and heart failure.
Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy patches that appear on the lens of the eye. It is not known why this happens although the condition is commonly associated with the ageing process. These cloudy patches will reduce the amount of light that can pass through lens, adversely affecting a person’s vision. If this interferes with their everyday life, cataract surgery should be performed to remove the lens, which will then be replaced with an artificial one.
Catheter: A catheter is when a thin tube is inserted into the bladder in order to drain urine. The tube may be inserted via the urethra or the abdomen and will allow the urine to travel from the bladder, through the tube and into an external collection bag. It will be needed if the patient is unable to empty their bladder of their own accord. This might be because the patient is immobile, has a blockage or is undergoing surgery. A catheter can be temporary or permanent.
Cauda Equina Syndrome: Cauda equina syndrome is a neurological condition in which the cauda equina nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord become compressed. This might happen due to a slipped disc, a spinal tumour, a traumatic accident, an infection or an inflammatory condition. Due to the sensitivity of the nerves, compression will quickly cause an injury, resulting in a loss of function. This will lead to symptoms such as altered urinary function, chronic back and leg pain, and reduced sensation in the perineum. The pressure being place upon the nerves must be alleviated through decompression surgery if permanent damage is to be avoided.
Cellulitis: Cellulitis is an infection of the underlying layers of skin (called the dermis and the subcutis). This happens when bacteria or fungi break through the surface of the skin via a cut, burn or bite and move downwards. The deeper layers of skin and surrounding tissue will then become infected, leading to skin that is red, hot and swollen. The condition can be treated with antibiotics. Cellulitis does not relate to cellulite, which is the name given to fatty deposits under the skin.
Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that affects a person’s co-ordination and movement. It occurs when the cerebrum (the part of the brain that controls certain muscles and learning skills) is damaged before, during or shortly after birth. Symptoms will become apparent during the first three years of a child’s life. These will include slow development skills (such as walking) and abnormal muscle tone (where they are either very floppy or very rigid). There are different types of cerebral palsy, none of which can be cured. However, there are a range of treatments which will help a person manage their condition.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment which damages cancerous cells, preventing them from multiplying and spreading. There are different types of chemotherapy treatment, and a treatment plan will be devised according to a patient’s condition. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously or orally and can lead to unpleasant side-effects such as hair loss, tiredness and vomiting.
Cholecystectomy: A cholecystectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder. This may be required if gallstones are causing painful symptoms. Normally a cholecystectomy will be performed via keyhole surgery (a laparoscopic cholecystectomy), although if this is not safe open surgery will be required.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver, although it can also be found in certain foods. Without cholesterol the body would not be able to function as it forms the outer membranes of cells, insulates nerve fibres and makes hormones. However, too much cholesterol is dangerous as it will build up in the artery walls, blocking the flow of blood. This will increase the risk of a heart attack and a stroke.
Chronic kidney disease: Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is when the kidneys are put under too much strain and become harmed. It is a long-term condition which will become progressively worse over time. At first it may not cause any problems, but as the injury becomes more extensive the kidneys will begin to lose function, leading to symptoms such as weight loss, shortness of breath and urinary frequency. CKD cannot be cured but treatment can be provided to prevent the condition becoming worse.
Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by extensive liver damage. Normally this happens due to excessive alcohol consumption or the viral infection hepatitis C. Cirrhosis causes the liver to lose function and leads to symptoms such as jaundice, fever, vomiting blood, shortness of breath and tarry stools. The condition cannot be cured and can progress to liver failure with time. However, this can be prevented with lifestyle changes and medication.
Cloacal defect: A cloacal defect is when there is nothing separating the vaginal opening and the rectum. In other words, there is no perineum, but just one continuous channel. A cloacal anomaly can occur when a foetus does not develop properly, a problem which will typically be discovered at the time of delivery. An adult may also sustain a cloacal deformity due to a traumatic incident. This will ordinarily be a birth injury where the perineum tears from the vagina to the rectum.
Colostomy: A colostomy is when part of the large intestine is diverted through a hole (called a stoma) in the abdomen, allowing faeces to be collected in a stoma bag which sits on the outside of the tummy. It will be needed if the large intestine, also called the colon, cannot process waste products properly. This might happen because of conditions such bowel cancer, diverticulitis and Crohn’s Disease, or because of an obstruction, incontinence or surgery. A colostomy can be temporary or permanent.
Consent: Consent is when a patient agrees to medical treatment or examination. A patient must give consent for any type of medical intervention. Sometimes it may be given verbally for example, agreeing to have a vaccination. Other times consent must be given in writing for example, before an operation. The consent is only valid if the decision is made voluntarily by a patient and the decision is informed, meaning they are in possession of all the facts. If the patient does not have mental capacity or is a child, consent can be obtained from family members. In some cases consent from the patient is not necessary and medical practitioners can go ahead with treatment deemed to be in the patient’s best interests. This might apply if the patient has a severe mental health condition or encounters complications during a surgical procedure.
Crohn’s Disease: Crohn’s Disease is a permanent condition which causes the lining of the digestive system to become inflamed, resulting in diarrhoea, fatigue and abdominal pain. Inflammation can occur in any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the rectum. Most commonly it will affect intestine. It is not known why Crohn’s Disease develops, although it is likely that genetic factors are at play.
CT Scan: A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan produces detailed images of structures inside the body, such as the organs, blood vessels and bones. The patient will lie flat on their back and a large tube will rotate around their body. This tube directs a series of x-rays at the body, which will create an image on a computer. This is more detailed than a normal x-ray. A CT scan is useful for diagnosing various conditions such as cancer, fractures and strokes.
Cystoscopy: A cystoscopy is when a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the urethra and up into the bladder. The tube has a camera and a light attached to the end and relays images back to a computer screen. This allows medical practitioners to see inside the bladder, assisting with the diagnosis of conditions such as bladder cancer, bladder stones and urethral stricture.
Deep vein thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot develops in one of the body’s deep veins usually in the leg. DVT has a number of possible causes, including inactivity, pregnancy, the contraceptive pill, obesity, old age, dehydration and medical conditions such as heart and lung disease.
Diabetes: Diabetes is when the body does not produce the insulin hormone, meaning glucose that is released into the bloodstream during digestion cannot be broken down. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. Type 2 occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells do not react to insulin. Both are life-long conditions that must be controlled with medication.
Digital rectal examination: A digital rectal examination is when a finger is inserted into the anus to feel for any abnormalities. Digital rectal examinations are commonly needed to diagnose conditions such as rectal cancer and haemorrhoids, as well as injuries to the anal sphincter.
Diverticular disease/diverticulitis: As the large intestine weakens with age, it is possible that small pockets will develop in the lining of the colon. These are known as diverticula. Around one in four people with diverticula will suffer associated symptoms such as bloating, rectal bleeding and a change in toilet habits. This is known as diverticular disease. If one or more of the diverticula become infected, someone is said to have diverticulitis.
Duodenal ulcer: A duodenal ulcer is an ulcer that develops in the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine. This will happen because something causes the mucous lining the intestine to break down. This can commonly be attributed to H. pylori bacteria or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). When the mucous breaks down, the intestine no longer has a defence against acid, which is used by the stomach to digest food. The acid then corrodes the lining of the intestine, causing an ulcer.
Ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself somewhere other than the uterus usually the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy cannot be successful and must be terminated.
Embolism: An embolism is when a foreign body travels through the bloodstream and becomes stuck in a blood vessel, blocking the flow of blood. This foreign body might include a blood clot, an air bubble, fat particles that live inside the bone or cholesterol.
Encephalitis: Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain, often due to a viral infection, although it can also be caused by insect bites, auto-immune conditions and chronic health conditions. It is a medical emergency because the inflammation will quickly damage the brain, resulting in long-term disability.
Endometriosis: Endometriosis is when the lining of the womb (known as the endometrium) is found outside of the womb itself. It may be found on other structures such as the fallopian tubes, vagina, rectum, bladder and ovaries. The condition causes very painful and heavy periods.
Endoscopy: An endoscopy is when a narrow, flexible tube with a camera and a light attached to the end is inserted into the body through an opening such as the mouth, anus or urethra. The camera relays images back to a television screen, enabling medical practitioners to diagnose conditions such as cancer, gallstones and fibroids. There are different types of endoscopy, depending upon the area being examined. For example, a colonoscopy is when an endoscope is inserted into the anus and into the large intestine. The patient is normally conscious during these procedures, although local anaesthetic or a sedative may be provided.
Epidural anaesthesia: Epidural anaesthetic is a type of anaesthetic that is injected straight into the spine. The patient will remain conscious but will experience numbness in the lower half of their body. The extent of numbness will depend upon how much anaesthetic is injected, but can include the chest, abdomen, pelvic area and legs. An epidural is normally associated with childbirth but may also be administered during lower limb surgery.
Epilepsy: Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which the electrical impulses of the brain are disrupted, causing a seizure (sometimes known as a fit). The reason epilepsy develops is not always known, although it usually involves some form of brain damage. It may also be a side-effect of another condition such as cerebral palsy. Epilepsy cannot be cured but seizures can normally be controlled with medication.
Episiotomy: An episiotomy is a surgical cut to the perineum (the area of skin between the anus and genitals). It is used to widen the vaginal opening during childbirth. This may be needed if an assisted delivery is required, or if the baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone. The cut should be made diagonally downwards known as a medio-lateral episiotomy. Midline episiotomies, where the cut is made straight downwards, are no longer practiced in Ireland.
Facelift: Known medically as a rhytidectomy, a facelift is a type of cosmetic surgery used to remove excess skin and fat from the face. It is intended for those who want a tighter, more youthful looking appearance.
Faecal incontinence: Faecal incontinence is when bowel movements cannot be controlled. The affected individual will not be able to prevent defecation and will pass wind and stools uncontrollably. This can be the result of another medical condition such as bowel cancer and can affect women who have sustained a severe injury during childbirth.
Female sterilisation: Female sterilisation is a permanent method of female contraception. It involves a surgical procedure during which clips are attached to each fallopian tube, thereby blocking the passage of the egg from the ovary to the uterus.
Fibroids: Fibroids are growths that appear on the inside of the womb. They are made up of tissue and fibrous material and do not always lead to any symptoms. Many women will not even know they have fibroids. They are not cancerous so treatment will only be necessary if they cause problems such as pain and heavy bleeding. In such cases medication may be prescribed, or surgery may be required.
Fistula: A fistula is when a passageway develops between two organs or vessels that should not be connected. This can happen anywhere in the body, although one of the most common types is an obstetric fistula. This is when the trauma of childbirth causes a hole to develop between the vagina and the rectum, allowing faeces to pass into the vagina. This channel must be surgically repaired.
Foot drop: Foot drop is a when the muscles that lift the foot are weakened or paralysed, causing the foot to scuff along the ground when walking. This will usually happen because of brain or nerve damage (meaning recovery may be possible), although it can also be a side-effect of neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (meaning it will probably be permanent).
Fournier’s gangrene: Fournier’s gangrene is when necrotising fasciitis affects the male genitalia and perineum. Necrotising fasciitis is a type of bacterial infection that attacks the tissue and underlying fascia, causing it to become necrotic (die). It can occur anywhere in the body, but if it develops in the perineum and genital region it is known as Fournier’s gangrene. It must be treated immediately with antibiotics and surgical debridement.
Fourth degree tear: A fourth degree tear is a perineal injury sustained by the mother during a vaginal delivery. It is the most severe type of perineal tear and involves the vaginal wall, perineum, internal anal sphincter and external anal sphincter. A repair must be carried out in theatre shortly after the birth.
Fracture: A fracture is a break or crack in the bone which usually occurs due to a single traumatic incident such as a fall. This will lead to pain, swelling and bruising in the affected area. The precise course of treatment will vary according to the location of the fracture, but normally the bone must be reset and a plaster cast applied. Sometimes a fracture will be deliberately left untreated because a cast cannot be used for example, if the fracture is in the pelvis or collar bone. Occasionally the fracture will be so severe that surgery is required to fix the bones in place.
Gallbladder surgery: Gallbladder surgery is known medically as a cholecystectomy. It involves the surgical removal of the gallbladder, usually performed as a way of treating gallstones. It is possible to lead a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder, although some people find that certain foods will lead to bloating and diarrhoea after its removal.
Gallstones: Gallstones are small, hard stones that get stuck in the gallbladder. They occur when bile, cholesterol and other chemicals inside the gallbladder become imbalanced. These solidify and clump together to create gallstones. This will not necessarily lead to any symptoms, but if they get trapped in a duct they will cause intense abdominal pain. Treatment will then be required in the form of gallbladder surgery.
Gastroenteritis: Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and the large intestine. It causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea and can lead to dehydration if lost fluids are not replaced. Symptoms should clear within a matter of days and only severe cases will require treatment, usually in the form of antidiarrheal medication.
General anaesthetic: A general anaesthetic is a type of anaesthetic that causes the patient to fall unconscious. It is routinely used for surgical procedures. It can be administered in liquid form intravenously or inhaled as a gas through a mask. The anaesthetic will be given for the duration of the procedure. Once the operation is finished, the supply of anaesthetic will be stopped and the patient will naturally wake up.
Gentamicin: Gentamicin is a type of antibiotic used to treat both Gram negative and Gram positive organisms. It is not widely used as it can have harmful side-effects if used in excess. Its use must be carefully monitored, as too much gentamicin in the blood can result in gentamicin toxicity, where the kidneys and the inner ear are damaged.
Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes is when diabetes develops during pregnancy. Diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. This causes blood glucose levels to rise, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, thirst and urinary frequency. This can happen during pregnancy because the high level of hormones can make the body insulin-resistant. Gestational diabetes can be managed with dietary changes although medication may also be required. It must be closely monitored during the course of the pregnancy, after which the condition should disappear. Gestational diabetes can be associated with certain complications, particularly macrosomia (a larger than average baby).
Glandular fever: Glandular fever is a viral infection that commonly affects young adults. It occurs when the body is infected with the Epstein-Barr (EBV) virus, something which is easily transmitted through saliva. Glandular fever will cause a sore throat, fever and extreme tiredness. There is no cure but symptoms should alleviate within two to three weeks.
Gynaecomastia: Gynaecomastia is a condition which causes male breasts to grow. It occurs because of an imbalance between testosterone and oestrogen. Oestrogen causes breast tissue to grow, so if there is more oestrogen than testosterone, there will be a swelling around the nipples, leading to ‘man boobs’. This usually occurs during puberty, although the problem can affect males of any age. Medication can be provided to rectify the hormone imbalance, or male breast reduction surgery can be performed.
Haematuria: Haematuria is the medical term for blood in the urine. It may be visible to the naked eye, or it may only be detected during a urine test. Blood in the urine is a symptom of various conditions, including cystitis, kidney infection, kidney stones and cancer of the prostate, kidney and bladder.
Haemophilia: Haemophilia is when the body cannot form clots. Normally when you cut yourself (internally or externally) the blood clumps together to form a clot. This stems and eventually stops the bleeding. But if you do not produce enough clotting agents (made out of protein) the body will not be able to respond, leading to excessive blood loss. Haemophilia is a genetic condition that cannot be cured, although it can be effectively managed with medication.
Haemorrhage: Haemorrhage is the medical term for bleeding, specifically the loss of blood from a ruptured blood vessel. This can happen anywhere in the body although a common example is a brain haemorrhage. This is when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (often due to an aneurysm) causing blood to escape and leak onto the brain. This deprives the brain of oxygen and damages the tissue, leading to very serious complications.
Heart attack: Known medically as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack is when the flow of blood to the heart is obstructed. This normally occurs if the arteries are clogged with deposits of cholesterol called plaques. If one of these plaques burst, a blood clot will form and block the flow of blood. This is a medical emergency and urgent treatment is required in the form of medication (called thrombolysis) and surgery (an angioplasty and/or a coronary artery bypass). Heart attacks can vary in severity and some will cause life-threatening complications such as a heart rupture.
Hepatitis: Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. There are different types of hepatitis, all of which are contracted in different ways. Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E are all viral infections and are usually caught by coming into contact with contaminated faeces or bodily fluids, whereas alcoholic hepatitis is when excess alcohol consumption damages the liver. Many cases of hepatitis can be successfully cured with antiviral medication, although some will suffer long-term (chronic) hepatitis. The condition will not always present any symptoms, but when it does initial symptoms will include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fever, joint pain and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
Hernia: A hernia is when an internal organ pushes through a weakness in the abdominal muscle wall, creating a bulge that can be felt on the surface of the skin. Normally this is prevented because the muscle wall is strong enough to keep the internal organs in place. But if there is a weakness, the internal body part will poke through the gap. The most common example is an inguinal hernia whereby the bowel pushes through the lower abdomen and groin. Hernias do not normally cause any symptoms, but there is a risk they will block the bowel and/or obstruct the flow of blood. Therefore surgery to remove a hernia may be advised.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the B lymphocyte white blood cells found in the lymphatic system. The B lymphocyte cells normally make antibodies (a type of protein) that attack bad bacteria and viruses. But if these cells begin to divide uncontrollably, they will clump together in the lymph system and form a tumour. These can easily spread round the body through the lymph system, making Hodgkin’s lymphoma a particularly aggressive cancer. However, it can be successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and steroids.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment that can be given to women during the menopause. It replaces the hormones of oestrogen and progesterone, the production of which will fall during the menopause (which is when a woman’s periods stop permanently). HRT will minimise the symptoms associated with the fall in hormone levels, which include hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness. Not all women will choose to take HRT as it can have side-effects such as bloating, depression and fluid retention.
Hospital acquired infection: A hospital acquired infection is when a patient catches an infection while staying in hospital. Such infections can escalate very quickly because there is a large amount of people in one place, giving the bacteria increased opportunities to spread. Many hospital patients also have a lower immune system, meaning they are more susceptible to infections. MRSA is the most widely known hospital acquired infection, with others including C. Difficile, the norovirus and E. Coli.
Hydrocephalus: Hydrocephalus is when cerebrospinal fluid builds up on the brain. It can appear at birth, or can develop in children, adults and the elderly due to illness, injury or underlying health conditions. The fluid must be drained with a shunt or serious brain injuries will occur.
Hypertension: Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure readings gauge how strongly blood presses against the arteries as it is pumped around the body. If it is too high, the arteries and the heart will be put under strain, eventually leading to complications such as a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease. It is not always known what causes hypertension, although age, weight and an unhealthy lifestyle are all risk factors. High blood pressure does not always produce any symptoms, so it is important to have regular checks at the GP. Once high blood pressure is diagnosed it can be effectively managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
Hypotension: Hypotension is the medical term for low blood pressure. Blood pressure is the measurement used to calculate how hard your blood is pressing against your arteries as it is pumped around the body. Low blood pressure is usually a sign of good health, although if it is too low it can lead to symptoms such as dizziness and fainting. This may happen due to regular exercise, digestion, hot temperatures and dehydration. Certain medications and conditions of the nervous system can also cause low blood pressure.
Hysterectomy: A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus (womb). This may be required as a form of treatment for women who have heavy periods, uterine fibroids or cancer of the uterus, cervix or ovaries. There are different types of hysterectomy for example, a total hysterectomy will only remove the womb and cervix, while a hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy will also remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It will not be possible to conceive after a hysterectomy has been performed.
Ileostomy: An ileostomy is a surgical procedure in which the end of the small intestine (the ileum) is detached from the colon and linked to a pouch called a stoma bag. The stoma bag will collect faeces. It will either sit outside the body, in which case the ileum will be redirected through a hole in the abdomen, or it will be created inside the body. This surgery will usually be required when the colon loses function, something which can happen due to conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or bowel cancer.
Insulin: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It controls the level of glucose in the blood. People with diabetes will not produce enough insulin or will produce insulin that does not work properly. Diabetes sufferers will need to inject or ingest insulin on a daily basis.
Intrauterine device (IUD): Known more commonly as the coil, an intrauterine device is a method of female contraception. It is a T-shaped device made out of plastic and copper which is inserted into the uterus by a doctor or nurse. It then releases copper into your bloodstream which changes the balance of fluids inside the womb. This means sperm are unable to survive, thereby preventing a sperm from fertilising an egg.
Jaundice: Jaundice happens when a waste product called bilirubin builds up in the blood and body tissue. Normally bilirubin moves from the blood to the liver and out of the body in urine or faeces. Any condition that disrupts this process will cause jaundice, including liver disease, certain cancers and sickle cell anaemia. Jaundice will lead to symptoms such as yellowing skin and eyes, pale stools and dark coloured urine. Treatment will depend upon the underlying cause.
Kidney failure: Kidney failure, otherwise known as established renal failure (ERF), is the final stage of chronic kidney disease. It is a life-threatening condition as it means nearly all kidney function has been lost. It can only be cured with a kidney transplant. Dialysis will be required in the run-up to surgery if fatal complications are to be avoided.
Kidney stones: Kidney stones are small stone-like masses that form in one or both of the kidneys. They happen when waste products in the blood clump together to form crystals. These will collect in the kidneys and will eventually build up to create kidneys stones. Smaller stones will be passed out of the body in the urine without problem, but larger stones can become stuck in the urinary system. This is very painful and may require treatment in the form of extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) where shock waves are sent through the body to break the stone down into smaller pieces.
Labial reduction surgery: Labial reduction surgery, also known as labiaplasty, is a type of aesthetic genital surgery. It involves trimming the labia minora to make them smaller. It is intended for women who are unhappy with the size of their labia, something which can cause emotional and physical problems (such as rubbing, pain and infection).
Laparoscopy: A laparoscopy is the medical term for keyhole surgery. It means a large surgical incision is not required. Instead, a laparoscope is inserted into the patient, which is a narrow tube with a light and camera attached to the end. This relays images back to a television screen in the operating theatre, allowing the surgeon to see inside the patient.
Laparotomy: A laparotomy is the medical term for open abdominal surgery (as opposed to laparoscopic or keyhole surgery). A surgical incision is made across the abdomen, allowing access to the abdominal cavity. A laparotomy will be needed if a laparoscopy is not suitable for a patient for instance, if there is a previous history of abdominal surgery.
Laxatives: Laxatives are a type of medication that will loosen the stools, helping a person to empty their bowels. They are widely used to treat constipation.
Lipoedema: Lipoedema is an abnormal collection of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks. It is not known what causes the condition although it can run in families. Lipoedema usually affects women and along with an unpleasant appearance it can be very painful and can lead to varicose veins. The only known treatment is liposuction, a cosmetic procedure used to remove fatty deposits.
Lipoma: A lipoma is when fat cells accumulate in one area to create a lump under the surface of the skin. It will feel soft and smooth to touch, as opposed to a cyst (a lump filled with pus) which will be hard and inflamed. A lipoma is not harmful and can be left alone. Some people will feel self-conscious about the appearance and so will choose to have it removed.
Liposuction: Liposuction is a cosmetic procedure used to remove deposits of excess body fat. It is usually performed under general anaesthetic and involves inserting a tiny tube into the skin via a small incision. This is attached to a suction machine which is then turned on to loosen and suck the fat out. These fat cells will be permanently removed, although the remaining cells can continue to grow, meaning weight can still be gained.
Lithotomy position: The lithotomy position is when a patient is placed on their back with their legs apart. Stirrups are often used to aid the position. This allows medical practitioners better access to the pelvic and genital area.
Liver disease: There are more than 100 types of liver disease with cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis being two of the most common. All are extremely serious as the body cannot function without the liver.
Local anaesthetic: Local anaesthetic is a type of anaesthetic that numbs a specific part of the body so that pain cannot be felt, despite the patient remaining conscious. It works by blocking the nerves in the affected area so that pain signals cannot reach the brain. It can be applied topically onto the skin, or it can be injected into the tissue. It takes effect almost immediately and will gradually wear off until normal sensation is regained.
Lumbar decompression surgery: Lumbar decompression surgery is a type of surgical procedure performed on the lower back (called the lumbar). It is intended to alleviate pressure that is being placed upon the nerves, which may in turn be causing pain and other symptoms. Pressure may be placed upon the nerves due to conditions such as cauda equina syndrome, spinal stenosis and a slipped disc. There are different surgical techniques that may be adopted depending upon the patient’s condition, including a laminectomy, a discectomy and a spinal fusion.
Lumbar puncture: A lumbar puncture is a diagnostic test that measures the pressure inside the spinal canal and enables a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to be sent for analysis. This may be required to confirm or exclude conditions that affect the brain, spine and nervous system, such as meningitis and subarachnoid haemorrhage. The procedure involves a needle being inserted through the base of the spine and into the spinal canal. The pressure inside the spinal canal can then be measured with manometry tests, while the CSF will seep out into a sterile container.
Lymphoedema: Lymphoedema is when the body cannot properly drain excess fluids, causing the tissue to swell (usually in the arms or legs). This happens when the lymphatic system is damaged, either due to genetic factors, or due to injury, infection or cancer treatment. Lymphoedema cannot be cured, although symptoms can be alleviated with massage and compression garments. The appearance of lymphoedema can cause emotional distress, while the risk of a cellulitis infection is also increased.
Mastectomy: A mastectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the breast. This will usually be required as a form of treatment for breast cancer. There are different types of mastectomy but usually all the breast tissue is removed. A breast reconstruction can be performed subsequently, either using a silicone implant or tissue from other parts of the body.
Melanoma: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It begins when skin cells develop abnormally to create a cancerous mole. It is not always known why this happens, although the risk can be increased by exposure to ultraviolet light. If the cancerous mole is not surgically removed in the early stages, it can quickly spread to other parts of the body, making it a very serious condition.
Meningitis: Meningitis is an infection of the meninges this may either be a viral or a bacterial infection. Meninges are protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. When they become infected they become inflamed, damaging the nerves and brain. This can cause long-term complications such as hearing loss, epilepsy, sepsis and death. To prevent these consequences meningitis must be treated without delay with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. It is vital medical professionals recognise the symptoms of meningitis as this will ensure early treatment. Symptoms include headaches, flu-like symptoms, a stiff neck and a rash.
Menorrhagia: Menorrhagia is the medical term for heavy periods. There is not necessarily anything that causes this some women simply lose more blood than others. If it is affecting a woman’s life, treatment can be provided in the form of contraceptive medication or, if it is a real problem, surgery. Menorrhagia can also be the symptom of conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis and cancer.
Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial cells which line the outer surface of the body’s organs. The cancer will usually develop in the lungs and chest and is normally caused by exposure to asbestos.
Mini-stroke: A mini-stroke is also known as a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). It occurs when the blood supply to a particular part of the brain is temporarily disrupted. This happens because one of the small blood vessels becomes blocked by something such as a fatty deposit or a blood clot. This will limit the oxygen supply to the brain, causing symptoms very similar to a stroke, including a droopy face, slurred speech and the inability to raise the arms. It is important for a mini-stroke to be diagnosed as it may be a precursor to a full stroke. Treatment to help prevent a stroke can then be provided in the form of medication and lifestyle changes.
MRI scan: A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan produces detailed pictures of the internal body. The patient is moved through a large cylindrical scanner, during which radio waves and magnetic fields are directed at their body. This picks up signals from protons within the body, using them to create in-depth images of almost any area, including the brain, spinal cord, bones, tissue and organs. This makes it an extremely useful diagnostic tool.
MRSA: MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. It is a bacterial infection commonly caught in hospitals. It is caused by the staph bacteria which often live on the skin and nostrils without causing a problem. But if the bacteria enter the body via a break in the skin it can result in a skin/soft tissue infection, leading to pus-filled lumps and a high temperature. If the bacteria go deeper inside the body it can result in serious complications such as blood poisoning and other types of infection. The staph bacteria have become resistant to most types of antibiotic, so MRSA can be difficult to treat. Hospital staff must therefore take precautions to stop the infection developing.
Multiple sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that occurs when the transfer of nerve signals is disrupted. This happens because the immune system mistakes the myelin (a protective layer of protein that surrounds each nerve fibre) and attacks it, causing it to become damaged. This will lead to ongoing symptoms such as blurred vision, muscle weakness and problems with balance. There is no cure for MS although there is medication and other treatments that can help relieve symptoms.
Myocardial infarction: Myocardial infarction is the medical term for a heart attack. This is when the flow of blood to the heart is obstructed, usually due to a blood clot. It is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
Necrotising fasciitis: Necrotising fasciitis is a bacterial infection commonly known as the ‘flesh eating disease’. It occurs when certain types of bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin and rapidly reproduce. As they multiply, they release a poisonous toxin that attacks the tissue, causing it to become necrotic (dead). Necrotising fasciitis must be treated with antibiotics and surgical debridement (removal) of the dead skin. This must be performed without delay as the infection will spread very quickly.
Never event: A never event is a serious patient safety incident which should not happen if the correct preventative measures are enforced. There is a list of never events which is updated annually. The core list of never events includes wrong site surgery, retained foreign objects and wrong route administration of chemotherapy.
NSAIDs: NSAIDs stand for ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs’. They can be used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and bring down a high temperature. They are prescribed for short-term conditions such as headaches and toothaches, as well as long-term conditions such as arthritis and back pain. The use of NSAIDs must be monitored as they can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and stomach ulcers.
Obstetric sphincter damage: Obstetric sphincter damage is when the mother’s anal sphincter is injured during a vaginal delivery. This may only involve the external sphincter (classified as a third degree tear), or it may involve both the external and internal sphincter (classified as a fourth degree tear). Obstetric sphincter damage must be diagnosed and repaired shortly after the delivery if complications such as faecal incontinence are to be avoided.
Otoplasty: An otoplasty is a type of cosmetic procedure used to ‘pin’ the ears back. It is suitable for those who feel their ears are too prominent and are unhappy with their appearance. An otoplasty involves making an incision behind the ear and adjusting the shape of the cartilage. This will allow the ears to lie closer to the side of the head.
Painkillers: Painkillers belong to a group of drugs called analgesics. There are different types of painkiller of varying strengths. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are common types of painkiller used to treat mild to moderate pain, while morphine is used to relieve more severe pain.
Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, the organ which produces insulin and digestive enzymes. Acute pancreatitis is a short-term condition that happens when the enzymes become defective and try to digest the pancreas. This will cause severe abdominal pain and vomiting. There is no cure for acute pancreatitis so the body’s organs must be supported until the inflammation passes. However, it can be fatal. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term condition usually caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Again, there is no cure so treatment will focus upon lifestyle changes and pain-relief.
Peptic ulcer: A peptic ulcer is otherwise known as a stomach ulcer or a gastric ulcer. It is an open sore that develops on the lining of the stomach. It occurs when something irritates the stomach lining; this will usually be the H. pylori bacteria or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It will cause a burning pain in the abdomen and must be treated with antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
Perineal tear: A perineal tear is when the perineum (the skin between the genitalia and the anus) is injured. This is something that usually affects women who give birth vaginally. The severity of a perineal tear sustained during birth can vary dramatically, with a first degree tear being the most minor and a fourth degree tear being the most severe.
Peripheral Neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is often referred to as polyneuropathy. The term is used to describe damage to the peripheral nervous system, meaning all parts of the nervous system other than the brain and spinal cord (which are called the central nervous system). Peripheral nerve damage can happen in a number of ways, with diabetes being the most common cause. The condition leads to pain and tingling in the hands and feet. If the underlying cause is not treated the tissue can become infected, necessitating an amputation.
Peritonitis: Peritonitis is when the lining of the abdominal wall (called the peritoneum) becomes infected. This can happen for primary reasons, meaning infection occurs inside the peritoneum usually because of cirrhosis of the liver or peritoneal dialysis. Or it can happen for secondary reasons, meaning an infection has spread from another part of the body such as a ruptured appendix. Peritonitis is a potentially life-threating condition which must be urgently treated with antibiotics.
Phaeochromocytoma: Phaeochromocytoma is when a non-cancerous tumour develops on the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and release hormones into the blood stream when required. A tumour will cause the adrenal gland to release too many hormones particularly adrenaline and noradrenaline resulting in headaches, sweating and heart palpitations. Most patients will need to have the tumour surgically removed.
Pleural effusion: Pleural effusion is when fluid collates around the lungs. This often occurs because of pleurisy, a condition that sees the outside of the lungs become inflamed. Having fluid on your lungs will cause shortness of breath. If this does not resolve with time, a drain will be inserted into the lungs and the fluid drained away.
Pleurisy: Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the thin sheet of tissue that covers the outside of the lungs. It usually occurs in conjunction with another illness, particularly infections such as the flu or pneumonia. Pleurisy will lead to shortness of breath, sharp chest pains and a cough. Treatment will depend upon the underlying cause; antibiotics will be required if a bacterial infection is at play.
Pneumonia: Pneumonia is when the tiny air sacs (called the alveoli) at the end of the bronchioles become inflamed and filled with fluid. There are various types of pneumonia but the most common is caused by a bacterial infection. This will cause difficulty breathing, fever and a cough. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, although severe cases can lead to complications and will require hospital treatment.
Pneumothorax: Pneumothorax is also referred to as a collapsed lung. It is when air gets trapped between the lungs and the chest wall, the pressure of which causes the lung to collapse. This will result in breathlessness, a sharp pain in the chest, and pain that is worse on breathing in. Pneumothorax will come on very suddenly and can develop for no apparent reason, although it can also be a side-effect of an existing lung disease or traumatic incident. The trapped air will often be reabsorbed by the body within days, meaning no treatment is required. A large pneumothorax will have to be aspirated.
Polyneuropathy: See peripheral neuropathy.
Polyps: A polyp is an abnormal tissue mass that grows on the lining of an internal organ. Polyps can develop across the body and are most commonly found in the colon, stomach, nose, bladder, cervix and uterus. Polyps are caused by abnormal cell growth and are not dangerous. However, some polyps can turn into cancer, so it is important they are removed.
Pre-eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia is when the placenta does not develop properly in the early stages of pregnancy. It is not known why this happens, but it does mean the blood supply to the placenta is not sufficient. Consequently, waste products build-up in the mother’s bloodstream causing high blood pressure and kidney damage. It can also affect the unborn baby’s growth. Pre-eclampsia is normally diagnosed in the later stages of pregnancy during routine tests. It must be managed with medication and severe cases will require admission to hospital. It may even be necessary to induce the birth early as this is the only way to cure pre-eclampsia.
Prescribing error: A prescribing error is when a patient is given the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or medication which is harmful (because of an allergy or because it contra-indicates other medication being taken). A prescribing error can be made by the treating clinician or pharmacist or may occur due to a technical fault.
Pressure ulcers: Pressure ulcers are also known as pressure sores or bedsores. They occur when an area of tissue is subject to unrelieved pressure. This disrupts the blood supply, starving the tissue of oxygen and causing the build-up of waste products. Consequently, the tissue will begin to break down, leading to an open sore on the surface of the skin. Pressure ulcers tend to affect those with poor mobility and so are especially prevalent in hospital. Nevertheless, pressure ulcers are considered to be a ‘never event’, meaning they can be prevented if the correct safety measures are implemented.
Prolapsed disc: A prolapsed disc is also known as a slipped or herniated disc. Prolapsed discs are commonly associated with the ageing process but can affect anyone whose spine is placed under pressure. It happens when there is a weakness in the outer wall of a vertebral disc (circular pieces of cartilage that sit in between each vertebra). The inner part of the disc bulges through this weakness, pressing upon the surrounding structures. This will be painful and may also result in nerve damage. If there is evidence of nerve damage, surgery will be required.
Prophylactic: A prophylactic is a treatment or medication that is intended to prevent a disease from arising. For example, vaccinations help to safeguard a person against disease. Or a patient who is vulnerable to infection may be given antibiotics, even if he/she has not yet developed an infection.
Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolism is when a blood clot travels in the bloodstream and gets stuck in the pulmonary artery, which carries blood from the heart to the lungs. It can disrupt the blood supply to the lungs, making it a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a cough and chest pain. A pulmonary embolism must be treated urgently with anti-coagulant medication, while preventative treatment must be given to hospital patients who are at risk of developing the problem.
Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation to cure cancer, or to minimise the size of a tumour. There are two types of radiotherapy external and internal. External radiotherapy uses a machine to target the area with high energy radiation beams. Internal radiotherapy involves placing radioactive material or liquid inside the body. Either way, the treatment damages the cancerous cells, causing them to die. Less commonly radiotherapy is used to treat non-cancerous tumours, and other conditions such as thyroid disease and blood disorders.
Retained foreign object: A retained foreign object is when an item is accidently left inside a patient after a medical procedure. Common examples include swabs, sponges and needles.
Rhinoplasty: A rhinoplasty is the medical term for a nose job. It is a type of cosmetic procedure used to alter the aesthetic appearance of the nose. This might involve increasing or decreasing the size of the nose, changing the shape of the tip, bridge or nostrils and correcting breathing difficulties.
Ruptured bowel: A ruptured bowel is when there is a hole in the wall of the bowel. This can happen due to a traumatic incident such as a car crash, a medical condition such as ulcerative colitis (which can wear down the lining of the bowel until a hole develops), or a penetrative wound such as a surgeon’s knife. A ruptured bowel must be diagnosed and treated without delay or faeces will leak into the abdominal cavity, causing a serious infection called peritonitis.
Salpingo-oophorectomy: A salpingo-oophorectomy is a type of hysterectomy in which the fallopian tubes are ovaries are removed, along with the uterus. A unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is when only one fallopian tube and ovary is taken out, and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is when both ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed. Usually this will only be done if there is a risk of future complications such as ovarian cancer.
Sarcoma: Sarcomas are rare types of cancer that occur in the soft tissue, primary bone or stomach and intestines. There are around 100 different types of sarcoma which usually develop in the muscle, bone, tendons, nerves, cartilage, blood vessels, and fatty and fibrous tissues.
Sciatica: Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, causing pain that runs from the lower back, down through the buttocks to the lower leg. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and can become compressed or irritated in a number of ways, most commonly through a slipped disc. However, there is not always an identifiable cause, in which case treatment will involve relieving symptoms with painkillers and physiotherapy.
Sepsis: Sepsis is also called septicaemia or blood poisoning. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when an infection gets into the blood and spreads to other parts of the body. This causes the immune system to over-react, leading to inflammation and clots across the body. The symptoms of sepsis will develop quickly and include fever, increased heart rate and fast breathing. There may also be dizziness, vomiting and confusion. Sepsis must be treated immediately with antibiotics or serious complications such as septic shock will ensue. If the vital organs are affected, the condition can be fatal.
Septic shock: Septic shock is when an infection causes the blood pressure to drop to a dangerously low level. It will be preceded by sepsis, which is when an infection spreads to the blood. Septic shock occurs because sepsis compromises the heart’s ability to pump blood to the organs, resulting in low blood pressure. It will lead to symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, diarrhoea and vomiting. Septic shock is a medical emergency and, if not treated in time, can lead to organ failure and death.
Septicaemia: Septicaemia or blood poisoning is a bacterial infection of the blood. It is exactly the same as sepsis, the only difference being that sepsis can also be caused by viral of fungal infections. See sepsis for more information.
Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer. It is most commonly caused by over-exposure to ultraviolent light, either from the sun or sunbeds. This causes the skin cells to divide uncontrollably until a tumour forms. The condition can be successfully treated with surgery, especially if detected in the early stages. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body or recurs, further treatment will be required.
Stoma: A stoma is when a hole is surgically created in the abdomen, enabling waste products to bypass the normal digestive course. A bag is fitted over the top of the stoma to collect waste products. This will be required if urine or faeces needs to be diverted due to a health condition for example, inflammatory bowel disease. There are different types of stomas, including a colostomy, an ileostomy and a urostomy. It can be permanent or temporary.
Stroke: A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted. This may occur because a blood clot is blocking a blood vessel, preventing the flow of blood and starving the brain of oxygen. Or it may be that a weakness in the wall of the blood vessel bursts, causing blood to spill onto the brain. A stroke will lead to symptoms such as slurred speech, a drooping face and weakness on one side of the body. It is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately if serious complications are to be avoided.
Subarachnoid haemorrhage: A subarachnoid haemorrhage is a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the subarachnoid space an area between the skull and the brain. Normally this happens when an aneurysm (a bulge in the blood vessel wall) bursts. This will cause blood to leak onto the brain, damaging the brain tissue. The most common symptom of a subarachnoid haemorrhage is a sudden, intense headache, often referred to as a thunderclap headache. It must be treated immediately with medication and surgery if normal function is to be regained. Around 35% of patients will not survive.
Surgical diathermy: A diathermy is a surgical tool which uses heat generated by electricity to cut body tissue and seal or ‘cauterise’ bleeding.
Suture: A suture is the medical term for a surgical stitch. It involves using a needle and thread-like material to hold body tissues together after an injury or operation. Different types of material are used for sutures, some of which are dissolvable, meaning they will not have to be manually removed.
Tendon rupture: A tendon is a type of connective tissue that connects muscle to bone. Traumatic injuries can cause a tendon to split or ‘rupture’. This can happen in a number of ways, including cuts, sports injuries and rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery will be required to reunite the tendon.
Termination of pregnancy: A termination, more commonly known as an abortion, is the medical process of ending a pregnancy. Depending upon how far advanced the pregnancy is, it will either involve taking medication or having a surgical procedure. A termination must be performed during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Third degree tear: A third degree tear is a type of birth injury that may be sustained by a woman during a vaginal delivery. It is a serious laceration that involves the perineum and the external anal sphincter. It must be diagnosed and repaired with dissolvable stitches shortly after the delivery. If left untreated, symptoms such as faecal incontinence and urgency will arise.
Thrombosis: Thrombosis is when a blood clot forms in a blood vessel. Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a blood clot in a vein, and arterial thrombosis is a blood clot in an artery. Thrombosis can be dangerous as the clot can block the flow of blood. This will lead to serious complications, particularly if the clot is in the brain or lungs.
Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland. Located in the neck, the thyroid gland releases a hormone into the bloodstream that regulates the body’s growth and metabolism. The inflammation of the thyroid will either cause too much or too little thyroid hormone to be released into the blood. There are different types of thyroiditis with varying symptoms, with some of the most common including weight gain/loss, depression and fatigue.
Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA): A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is known more commonly as a mini-stroke. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is temporarily disrupted, usually because something is blocking a blood vessel (such as a blood clot or fatty deposits). Symptoms only last for a few minutes and are similar to a full stroke, including slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body. A suspected TIA must be fully investigated as it is often followed by further TIAs or a full stroke.
Tuberculosis: Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious bacterial infection that can be transmitted from person to person. It can affect any part of the body, but most commonly will infect the lungs. Symptoms of TB include a persistent cough, breathlessness, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats. It can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics.
Ulcerative colitis: ulcerative colitis is a permanent (chronic) condition in which the colon becomes inflamed. It is thought to be an auto-immune system, meaning the immune system mistakes harmless bacteria in the colon and attacks the healthy tissue. This causes it to become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss and an increased need to pass faeces. These symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. There is no cure for ulcerative colitis but symptoms can be managed with medication. A minority of sufferers will not respond to medication and will need to have their colon surgically removed.
Ultrasound scan: An ultrasound scan is a type of scan which uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body. It is very safe because it does not use radiation and is therefore used during pregnancy to produce images of an unborn baby. A small machine called a transducer is placed on the skin and this relays images and video recordings to a monitor. During an internal ultrasound, an ultrasound probe will be inserted into the body (via an opening such as the rectum or vagina) and images transmitted to a monitor.
Urinary incontinence: Urinary incontinence is when someone cannot control the passing of urine. There are two main types of urinary incontinence. Stress continence is when the pelvic floor muscles have been weakened (for example, due to pregnancy) causing urine to leak when the bladder is placed under pressure by something such as a sneeze or cough. Urge incontinence is when the urge to urinate cannot be controlled, meaning urine leaks before you have time to reach a toilet. Urinary incontinence can also be caused by neurological conditions such as cauda equina syndrome. Symptoms can be improved with exercises and medication, although sometimes surgery and/or a catheter will be required.
Urinary tract infection: A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. It will cause symptoms such as a painful burning sensation when urinating, increased need to urinate, abdominal pain and a high temperature. Mild UTIs can clear without medical intervention, but most will require a short course of antibiotics. UTIs are more common in women and can be triggered by having sex.
Varicose veins: Varicose veins are when veins become swollen due to weakened valves. All veins have small valves in them which push the blood towards the heart. If these valves weaken the blood will flow backwards and pool in the vein, causing it to become enlarged, lumpy and blue or purple in colour. Varicose veins usually occur in the legs and can lead to achy legs, swollen feet and cramp. They are caused by anything that weakens or damages the valves, including pregnancy, old age and being overweight. Varicose veins do not normally require medical intervention, although private treatment can be sought to improve the aesthetic appearance.
Vasectomy: A vasectomy is a permanent method of male contraception. It involves a small surgical procedure in which the vas deferens (the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis) are cut. A man can still ejaculate afterwards, but his semen will not contain any sperm, thereby preventing a woman’s egg from being fertilised.
Venous leg ulcer: A venous leg ulcer is a wound on the leg or foot caused by high blood pressure. It happens because if blood passes through the vein at a persistently high pressure, it will damage the skin, eventually causing it to break down. This will lead to skin that is itchy, hard and swollen. The area may also become discoloured and an open wound may develop. Venous leg ulcers take a long time to heal and are prone to infection, which can in turn lead to serious complications.
Vulvodynia: Vulvodynia describes a pain of the vulva that has no obvious cause. The vulva is the skin around the vagina. Many women who suffer from vulvodynia describe the pain as a burning or stinging sensation and can either be constant or provoked by touch. It is not known what causes vulvodynia although underlying conditions can be at play. Treatment is aimed to manage symptoms, which can be extremely distressing.
X-ray: An x-ray is when high frequency radiation is used to create images of the bones or organs. It works by passing radiation through the body, which causes energy particles called photons to be absorbed. The denser areas of the body such as the bones will absorb more radiation and therefore more photons. This will appear on the x-ray image, with the dense material showing up as clear white. X-rays are commonly used to diagnose broken bones and fractures but can also be used to diagnose health conditions such as pneumonia.