Misleading medical expressions

Laura Mappas
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Confused about medical terminology?

"Seasonal allergic reaction", "simple strain" … we've heard of them, but are they actually possible?

Nervous breakdown
You won't find this in any medical dictionary, but the term "nervous breakdown" is carelessly thrown around by just about everyone non-medical and is used to describe a variety of psychological crises. Why isn't the term used by those in the know? Because there is a long list of medical reasons someone may be having a breakdown and to assume it is because of "nerves" rules out all other possibilities.

Three-month colic
This term is something of a mystery, presumably originally coined by desperate parents or worried grandparents. Either way, "colic", or bowel spasm, can sometimes continue well beyond three months of age and a bowel spasm, which is often the first "diagnosis" when a baby exhibits the symptomatic constant crying associated with colic, may not even be the reason behind the baby's tears. Other lesser known conditions, such as "periodic crying of infancy", may be the culprit.

Suffering from shock
Shock is a specific medical term meaning the sudden loss of low blood pressure, usually accompanied by a racing pulse. It is typically apparent following blood loss, an infection, a heart attack or a severe allergic reaction, but none of these scenarios is usually at play when a layperson uses the term.

Hay fever
Doctors do use this term, but only so that they don't blind you with science. In fact, the allergy that causes the recognizable hay fever symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and red eyes, isn't just caused by hay, it can also be caused by grasses, flowers, tree pollens and fungi.

Heartburn
Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart; instead it's caused by acid inflaming the stomach. What's even more confusing is that the faulty valve in the stomach that allows the acid to reflux upwards is ironically called the cardiac sphincter.

Ringworm
The "ring" part is correct, as the skin does have a ring-like appearance, but the "worm" part is a myth. Instead of a worm doing all of the damage, the cause of this unsightly skin problem is a fungus.


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