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ACE inhibitor Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. Includes drugs such as captopril, mainly used to treat high blood pressure or heart failure.
Acetylcholine A nervous system transmitter involved in numerous body functions. Deficiencies have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, for example.
Acetylcholinesterase An enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (also known as cholinesterase).
Adrenal A small organ located above the kidney whose functions include producing hormones to regulate immune function, inflammation, and electrolytes.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) A federal agency with responsibility for conducting research to improve the delivery of health care in the United States.
Akathisia Restless leg syndrome. Can be drug-induced, involving an inability to remain in a sitting position, promoting restlessness and a feeling of muscular jitters.
Akinesia Weakness and muscular fatigue. Can be drug-induced, involving nerve problems that make patient appear listless, disinterested, and depressed. Additional problems may include infrequent blinking, slower swallowing of saliva with drooling, and a lack of facial expression.
Allergy Hypersensitivity (overreaction) to substances such as drugs, food, and pollen.
Alpha-blocker Any of a group of drugs (including phenoxybenzamine and phentolamine) that combine with and block the activity of an alpha adrenergic receptor and that are used especially to treat hypertension, similar to a beta-blocker.
Alzheimer’s disease A progressive deterioration of the brain resulting in impaired cognition and ability to perform daily activities.
Analgesic A drug used to relieve pain.
Androgen Male sex hormone.
Anemia Decrease in red blood cells or in hemoglobin of the blood.
Angina A disease marked by brief attacks of chest pain precipitated by deficient oxygenation of the heart muscles. It is caused by narrowed coronary arteries or a spasm of thin blood vessels.
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor Any of a class of drugs used to treat hypertension that work by blocking an enzyme that is necessary to produce angiotensin, a substance that causes blood vessels to tighten.
Angiotensin receptor blocker A class of drugs used to treat hypertension that work by blocking the receptor for angiotensin, a substance that causes the blood vessels to tighten.
Angiotensin II modifier A family of high-blood-pressure-lowering drugs that includes losartan (COZAAR), valsartan (DIOVAN), and irbesartan (AVAPRO).
Antacid A drug used to neutralize excess acid in the stomach.
Antiarrhythmic A drug used to treat abnormal heart rhythms.
Antibiotic A drug derived from molds or bacteria that is used to treat bacterial infections.
Anticholinergic A drug that blocks the effects of acetylcholine, a substance produced by the body that is responsible for certain nervous system activities (parasympathetic). Drugs with anticholinergic effects (including antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, drugs for intestinal problems, antiparkinsonians) inhibit the secretion of acid in the stomach, slow the passage of food through the digestive system, inhibit the production of saliva, sweat, and bronchial secretions, and increase the heart rate and blood pressure. Adverse effects of these drugs include dry mouth, constipation, difficulty urinating, confusion, worsening of glaucoma, blurred vision, and short-term memory problems.
Anticoagulant A drug that inhibits or slows down blood clotting.
Anticonvulsant A drug that prevents or treats seizures (convulsions or fits).
Antidepressant A drug used to treat mental depression.
Antiflatulent A drug used to reduce the production of gas in the gastrointestinal system.
Antifungal A drug used to treat infections caused by a fungus (such as ringworm, thrush, or athlete’s foot).
Antihistamine A drug used to prevent or relieve the symptoms of allergy (such as hay fever).
Antihypertensive A drug used to lower high blood pressure.
Antioxidant A chemical said to reduce the number of free radicals (unstable, highly reactive compounds that can damage genes).
Antiparkinsonian A drug used to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Antiprotozoal A drug used to treat infections caused by protozoa (tiny, one-celled animals).
Antipsychotic Any of the powerful tranquilizers (including the phenothiazines and butyrophenones) used especially to treat psychosis and believed to act by blocking dopamine nervous receptors. Also called neuroleptic.
Antispasmodic A drug used to reduce smooth muscle spasms (for example, stomach, intestinal, or urinary tract spasms that could lead to diarrhea or incontinence).
Antitubercular A drug used to treat tuberculosis (TB).
Aortic stenosis Narrowing of one of the valves (aortic valve) in the heart or of the aorta itself (one of the major blood vessels in the body).
Arthritis A chronic disease marked by painful, stiff, swollen, and sometimes red joints.
Asthma A chronic disorder characterized by wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and a suffo cating feeling. Can be caused by allergies or infections.
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) A syndrome of disordered learning and disruptive behavior characterized by symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior (such as speaking out of turn), or a combination of the three. Although it begins in childhood, it can persist to adulthood. The diagnosis cannot be made without considering whether problems at home or in school may be causative.
Atypical antipsychotic Drugs are considered atypical or novel because they have adverse effects different from the conventional antipsychotic agents. The atypical drugs are far less likely to cause extrapyramidal side effects, drug-induced involuntary movements, than are the older drugs. The atypical antipsychotic drugs may also be effective in some cases that are resistant to older drugs. Significant weight gain and induction of diabetes are adverse effects of these new drugs.
Barbiturate A drug used to produce drowsiness and/or a hypnotic state. It can become addictive if taken for a long period of time.
Benzodiazepines A family of drugs that are prescribed for nervousness and sleeping problems and to relax muscles and control seizures. They can be addictive if taken for an extended period of time. Adverse effects include confusion, drowsiness, hallucinations, mental depression, and impaired coordination resulting in falls and hip fractures.
Beta agonist Any of various drugs (including albuterol and terbutaline) used to treat asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that combine with and activate a beta adrenergic receptor in order to relax the muscles around the airways.
Beta-blocker A drug used to treat high blood pressure, angina, glaucoma, and irregular heart rhythms and to prevent migraine headaches. They work to dilate (open) the blood vessels and to decrease the number of heartbeats per minute, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Biguanide A type of diabetes medicine that helps lower blood glucose by making sure the liver does not make too much glucose. Biguanides also lower the amount of insulin in the body.
Bisphosphonate Drugs that bind to bone, partially preventing its breakdown. Bisphosphonates are used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis and to treat Paget’s disease.
Blinded study A study in which patients and/or investigators do not know which patients are receiving which treatments.
Bone marrow depression The body produces new red and white blood cells by making blood cells in the bone marrow, the core of the bones. Certain types of drugs reduce the ability of the marrow to produce new blood cells, leaving fewer blood cells to circulate in the body to carry oxygen or fight infection.
Bone mineral density A characteristic of bone measured by X-rays. It provides an estimate of how much bone is present and is one of several factors that affect the tendency of bones to break.
Bronchodilator A drug used to open the bronchial tubes (air passages) of the lungs to increase the flow of air through them. Used by patients who have asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.
Bronchospasm Temporary narrowing of the air passages in the lungs, decreasing the flow of air. This occurs in patients who have asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.
Calcium channel blocker A drug used to control high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart rate and to improve blood flow to the heart. It works by lowering the calcium concentrations in certain smooth muscles in the blood vessels, causing blood vessels to dilate (open) and heart rate to decrease, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Carcinogenicity The ability of a drug to cause cancer.
Cardiovascular system The system that allows circulation of oxygen and blood. It consists of the heart and blood vessels.
Carotid sinus Location of a special receptor in the carotid artery, a major blood vessel in the body, which is sensitive to changes in blood pressure.
Cephalosporin A family of antibiotics that has antibacterial activity similar to the penicillins but can work against a wider range of infections and kill some bacteria resistant to penicillins.
Cholesterol A fatlike substance found in blood and most tissues. Too much cholesterol is associated with such health risks as hardening of the arteries and heart attacks.
Cholesterol-lowering drug A drug that works—by various mechanisms including blocking cholesterol synthesis and increasing cholesterol breakdown—to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Cholinergic A drug that mimics the effects of acetylcholine, a substance produced by the body that is responsible for certain nervous system activities (parasympathetic). Drugs with cholinergic effects open (dilate) blood vessels, slow the heart, increase contractions in the gastrointestinal tract, and increase the force of contractions in the bladder.
Cholinesterase inhibitor A drug that inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, resulting in more cholinergic activity.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Refers to a number of chronic lung disorders that obstruct the airways. The most common form of COPD is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which occurs when airways in the lungs have become narrow and partly clogged with mucus and some of the air sacs deep in the lungs have been damaged.
Cirrhosis A chronic, progressive disease of the liver characterized by scarring and destruction of liver cells. May be caused by alcohol and drugs, for example.
Coating agent A drug that coats the stomach to treat peptic ulcer disease.
Cochrane Collaboration A consortium of international researchers that collects clinical trials and conducts meta-analyses.
Colitis Inflammation of the colon (large bowel).
Combination drug A single formulation (e.g., tablet) containing two active ingredients. Drugs should not be combined unless there is some advantage to administering the two active ingredients simultaneously.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) Healing practices that fall outside of conventional medical practice. CAM includes homeopathy, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, dietary supplements (including botanicals), meditation, and prayer.
Complete blood count (CBC) An examination of the blood to detect red cell and white cell counts.
Congestive heart failure A medical condition in which the heart does not pump adequately and fluid accumulates in the lungs and in the legs. Body tissues also do not receive an adequate blood supply.
Controlled trial A scientific study in which the effect of a drug on one group of patients is compared to the effect of another drug (or a placebo) on another group of patients. Rarely, patients act as their own controls.
Corticosteroid A family of drugs similar to the chemical cortisone, produced by the adrenal gland, that are used as anti-inflammatory agents and to control the body’s salt/water balance if needed. A glucocorticoid is a type of corticosteroid.
Cough suppressant Drugs such as dextromethorphan and codeine that work by “turning off” the part of the brain that controls the coughing response. Also known as antitussives.
Cutaneous Relating to the skin.
Cyst A sac containing gas, fluid, or semisolid material.
Decongestant Medicines used to relieve nasal congestion that typically work by relieving the swelling in membranes that line the nose by narrowing the blood vessels that supply the nose.
Dementia Deterioration or loss of intellectual faculties, reasoning power, will, and memory due to organic brain disease; characterized by confusion, disorientation, and stupor of varying degrees.
Depression, endogenous Serious depression not precipitated by outside factors, such as death of spouse, job loss, etc.
Delirium A clouded state of consciousness and confusion, marked by inattentiveness, disordered thinking, illusions, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and movement problems.
Dementia General mental deterioration, characterized by disorientation, memory loss, and intellectual decline.
Diabetes mellitus Also known as sugar diabetes. A disorder in which the body cannot process sugars to produce energy, due to lack of a hormone called insulin. This leads to too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia) and an increased risk of coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and other problems.
Dietary supplements Defined by law as products intended to supplement the diet that contain a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, or “a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake.” These products are essentially unregulated in the United States.
Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) A 1994 act of Congress that largely deregulated dietary supplements.
Diuretic Also known as a water pill. A drug that increases the amount of urine produced, by helping the kidneys get rid of water and salt. Used in the treatment of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
Diverticulitis Inflammation of a small pocket (abnormal sac) protruding outward from the lining of the intestine.
Duodenum The portion of the gastrointestinal tract immediately next to the stomach.
Eczema Inflammation of the skin marked by itching, redness, swelling, blistering, watery discharge, and scales.
Edema Swelling in the body, most notably feet and legs, caused by accumulation of fluid. This may be due to diseases in the veins of the legs, heart problems, kidney problems, liver problems, anemia, or electrolyte abnormalities.
Electrolyte Important chemicals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and bicarbonate, found in the body tissues and fluids.
Emphysema Condition of the lungs characterized by swelling of the alveoli (small air cells of the lungs), causing breathlessness and difficulty breathing.
Endometriosis Condition in which material similar to the lining of the womb (uterus) is present at other sites outside of the womb (including the pelvic cavity, intestines, and lung). This condition may cause pain and bleeding.
Enzyme A chemical that acts on other substances to speed up a chemical reaction. Enzymes in the intestines help to break down food.
Epidemiology A branch of public health concerned with describing the patterns of disease and establishing their causes.
Epilepsy A chronic disorder characterized by convulsive brain dysfunction due to excessive neuronal discharge and usually associated with some alteration of consciousness.
Erectile dysfunction Sometimes called impotence, it is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. Erectile dysfunction does not describe other problems that interfere with sexual intercourse and reproduction, such as lack of sexual desire and problems with ejaculation or orgasm.
Ergot derivative A family of chemicals that increase the body’s ability to expend energy. This family includes drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Esophagitis Inflammation of the esophagus, usually due to reflux of stomach contents back up the esophagus.
Esophagus A tube in the gastrointestinal tract connecting the mouth to the stomach.
Estrogen One of the two principal female sex hormones.
Expectorant A drug promoted to thin mucus in the airways so that the mucus may be coughed up more easily. None of these drugs are effective.
FDA Food and Drug Administration. U.S. agency responsible for the safety and effectiveness of medications.
Fecal impaction A collection of stool in the rectum or colon that is difficult to pass.
Fibrate A class of drugs that act to decrease serum triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol.
5-Alpha reductase inhibitor A drug that blocks the enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, another androgen, and is indicated for the treatment of symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia. It may also have applications as a treatment for baldness.
Fixed-ratio combination drug A combination of two or more ingredients, each ingredient is a set amount. This means that you cannot take more or less of one ingredient without also changing the amount of the other ingredient.
Fluoroquinolone A family of antibiotics that includes ciprofloxacin (CIPRO, CILOXAN), oflox acin (FLOXIN, OCUFLOX), lomefloxacin (MAXAQUIN), and others.
G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency An inherited medical condition marked by a lack of or reduced amounts of an enzyme (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) that breaks down certain sugar compounds in the body.
Gastrointestinal (GI) tract The system responsible for the extraction of nutrients from food and the elimination of wastes. Starts at the mouth and continues as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, ileum), large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Generic A drug whose patent has expired, allowing competing companies to make lower-cost versions.
Glaucoma Abnormally high pressure in the eye that can lead to partial or complete loss of vision. Narrow-angle (angle-closure) glaucoma is caused by inability of the fluid in the eye to drain. Open-angle glaucoma is caused by overproduction of eye fluid.
Glitazone A class of drugs used to treat diabetes that work by lowering the resistance to insulin in fat, live, and muscle cells and by stopping abnormalities and dysfunctions in beta cells. These drugs can cause or worsen heart failure.
Glucocorticoid A series of hormones made in the adrenal gland used to treat asthma, bronchitis, allergies, and other breathing problems; conditions that produce inflammation, such as arthritis and other joint and muscle disorders; skin conditions; and certain cancers, hormonal disorders, and infections.
Gout A form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid buildup in the blood, which then becomes deposited around the joints.
Heart block Failure of the electrical conduction tissue of the heart to conduct impulses normally from one part of the heart to another, causing altered rhythm of the heartbeat. There are varying degrees of severity. Slow heartbeat with fainting, seizure, or even death can result from this abnormality.
Heartburn The symptom of burning below the breastbone, often a sign of reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Heart failure See congestive heart failure.
Herbal product Products manufactured from plants, generally regulated as dietary supplements.
Herpes simplex Also known as cold sores. Inflammation of the skin, caused by a virus, resulting in groups of small, painful blisters. They may occur either around the mouth or, in the case of genital herpes, around the genitals (sex organs).
Histamine A chemical made by the body especially during an allergic reaction. It produces dilation of small blood vessels, causing redness, localized swelling, and often itching; lowers the blood pressure; and increases secretions from the stomach, the salivary glands, and other organs.
Histamine2-blocker Drugs that prevent the production of stomach acid and are used to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers and reflux esophagitis.
Hormone Substance produced in one part of the body (usually a gland) that then passes into the bloodstream and is carried to other organs or tissues, where it helps them to function.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) The use of estrogens and/or progestins in the case of ovarian failure or, much more commonly, to treat women beginning, during, and continuing after menopause.
Hypertension High blood pressure.
Huntington’s disease An inherited disease of the nervous system characterized by progressive dementia and involuntary movements.
Hypersensitivity An exaggerated response to a foreign stimulus.
Hypertension High blood pressure.
Hypoglycemia A low blood sugar level.
Hypothermia A condition resulting from overexposure to cold temperatures. The symptoms include shivering, cold hands and feet, and memory lapse.
Immune system The bodily system responsible for fighting inflammation, infection, and cancer.
Incontinence The inability to prevent loss of urine or stool.
Infection Disease resulting from presence of certain microorganisms or matter in the body. A viral infection, such as the common cold, for example, cannot be treated other than symptomatically with drugs except for herpes, flu, or AIDS. Bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics.
Inflammation The body’s reaction to a number of insults, including infection, trauma, and immune dysfunction.
Inhaled steroid Corticosteroids that are inhaled to reduce the swelling of the airways within the lungs. They are taken to prevent the symptoms of asthma and are generally used by asthma sufferers who are already using a reliever inhaler more than once a day.
Insomnia Inability to sleep.
Insulin A hormone secreted by the pancreas that is primarily responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels.
Interaction Increased probability of toxicity or ineffectiveness when two particular drugs are administered simultaneously. Usually caused by one drug raising or lowering the level of the other.
Irritable bowel syndrome A condition characterized by diarrhea and/or constipation. Diagnosed only in the absence of other gastrointestinal disorders.
Ischemic colitis A condition characterized by lack of blood flow to the colon.
Ketolide A class of antibiotics used to treat respiratory tract infections. Telithromycin is the only ketolide currently approved by the FDA. They are similar to erythromycins.
Laxative A drug used to encourage bowel movements. Hyperosmotic laxatives increase water content in stool, bulk-forming laxatives increase the size of the stool and stimulate the bowels to contract, stimulant laxatives directly stimulate the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and stool softeners soften the stool itself.
Leukotriene inhibitor A class of drugs used to treat asthma that work by blocking leukotrienes, a group of inflammatory compounds.
Leukotriene modifier A new family of asthma drugs that includes zafirlukast (ACCOLATE) and zileuton (ZYFLO).
Loop diuretic A class of drugs, including furosemide and bumetanide, that are used to reduce pulmonary and peripheral edema in conditions such as congestive heart failure and renal insufficiency.
Mania An emotional disorder characterized by euphoria, increased psychomotor activity, rapid speech, flight of ideas, decreased need for sleep, distractibility, grandiosity, and poor judgment. Mania generally occurs as part of bipolar disorder.
Meta-analysis A statistical technique for combining multiple similarly designed research studies.
Me-too drug Drugs that offer no significant benefit over drugs already on the market.
Migraine A complex of symptoms that occurs periodically and is characterized by headache, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and photophobia.
Mineral Any homogenous inorganic material usually found in the earth’s crust.
Muscle relaxant A group of drugs that have an overall sedative effect on the body, usually prescribed to relieve lower back pain that is associated with muscle spasms.
Mutagenicity The ability of a drug to cause genetic damage and thus, potentially, cancer.
Myasthenia gravis A chronic disease marked by abnormal weakness, and sometimes paralysis of certain muscles.
Narcotic A drug used to relieve pain that also may produce insensibility or stupor.
Nasal steroid A group of topical steroids that are used to reduce inflammation in the nose that typically results from nasal allergies. Nasal steroids can help provide relief from sneezing, nasal congestion, and runny nose.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) One of the institutes within the NIH (see below); responsible for research into complementary and alternative medicines.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) The U.S. government’s primary funder of biomedical research.
Nervous system The brain, spinal cord, and nerves throughout the body.
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome A rare reaction to antipsychotic medications that includes high fever, sweating, unstable blood pressure, confusion, and muscle rigidity.
Neurological Pertaining to the nervous system.
NMDA receptor antagonist A drug that prevents the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain from binding to glutamate. A drug in this class has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Nonnarcotic painkiller A drug such as ibuprofen that provides pain relief without generating the stupor, alteration in behavior and mood, and potential for dependence that characterizes narcotics.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) A drug (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) used to treat pain, fever, and swelling. It does not contain corticosteroids.
NSAID See Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Nutritional supplements Natural substances that are consumed in order to add to the nutrients normally ingested in the diet.
Observational study A study in which patients are followed over time but are not randomized as in a randomized, controlled trial.
Opiate Any preparation or derivative of opium, such as morphine or heroin.
Oral Pertaining to the mouth.
Oral contraceptive Birth-control pill.
Oral rehydration solution (ORS) A solution of salt, sugar, and water used to replace lost body fluids, especially in diarrhea.
Osteomalacia Softening of the bones due to lack of vitamin D.
Osteoporosis Loss of bone tissue that occurs most often in older women (thin, small-boned, white women, in particular), resulting in bones that are brittle and easily broken.
Pancreas An organ located near the stomach in the abdomen responsible for secreting enzymes and hormones, particularly insulin.
Parathyroid hormone A hormone secreted by the parathyroid glands, which are located in the neck. A synthetic version of the hormone is used to treat osteoporosis.
Parkinson’s disease Disorder of the nervous system marked by tremor (shaking), muscular rigidity, slow movements, stooped posture, salivation, and an immobile facial expression.
Parkinsonism, drug-induced A tremor often indistinguishable from Parkinson’s disease caused by a drug.
Patent A government-issued document that, in the case of drugs, allows only the company that owns the patent to produce the drug for a period of generally 20 years from the filing of the patent.
Peptic ulcer A localized loss of tissue, involving mainly the internal lining of areas of the digestive tract exposed to acid produced by the stomach. Usually involves the lower esophagus, the stomach, or the beginning of the small intestine (duodenum).
Phosphodiesterase inhibitor A class of drugs used in the treatment of congestive cardiac failure that work by blocking the inactivation of cyclic AMP and act like sympathetic simulation, increasing cardiac output. Viagra also functions through its activity as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor.
Placebo A medication without any active ingredient. Used as a control in some clinical trials.
Platelets Small cellular fragments that circulate in the blood and are responsible for blood clotting.
Pneumonia Disease of the lungs in which the tissue becomes inflamed, hardened, and watery. Causes include bacteria, viruses, chemical inhalation, and trauma.
Polyp Swollen or tumorous tissues that may or may not be cancerous. They may be found in various parts of the body, such as the lining of the digestive tract, bladder, nose, or throat.
Porphyria Rare, inherited blood disease.
Postural hypotension A condition that can result in a decrease in blood pressure when sitting or standing, resulting in lightheadedness or fainting.
Potassium-sparing diuretic A class of drugs commonly used to help reduce the amount of water in the body. Unlike some other diuretics, these medicines do not cause the body to lose potassium.
Progestin Synthetic variations of the naturally occurring hormone in women’s bodies called pro gesterone.
Prostaglandin One of a number of hormone-like substances that participate in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.
Prostate A walnut-sized gland found only in males, located deep inside the abdomen just below the bladder. The prostate gland surrounds the urethra, the canal that carries urine from the bladder. The prostate gland is responsible for producing seminal fluid, the liquid that carries sperm. It enlarges with age and can cause difficulty with starting and stopping urination.
Proton pump inhibitor Drugs that inhibit the secretion of stomach acid and are used to treat esophageal reflux and gastrointestinal ulcers.
Psoriasis Chronic skin condition marked by itchy, scaly, dry, red skin patches.
Psychosis Severe mental illness marked by loss of contact with reality, often involving delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking.
QT interval The interval on the electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) between the q-wave and the t-wave. If corrected for the patient’s heart rate, it is called QTc. Many drugs, acting alone or interacting with other drugs, have the potentially hazardous effect of lengthening this interval.
Randomized trial An experiment in which patients are assigned randomly (e.g., by a coin toss) to their treatment group.
Raynaud’s syndrome Condition marked by paleness, numbness, redness, and discomfort in the toes and fingers when they are exposed to cold. It rarely occurs in males.
Reflux Generally refers to stomach contents backing up into the esophagus.
Salicylate A drug used to treat rheumatism and relieve pain.
Sarcoidosis A chronic disorder in which the lymph nodes in many parts of the body are enlarged, and small fleshy swellings develop in the lungs, liver, and spleen.
Schizophrenia Serious mental illness (the most common type of psychosis) marked by a breakdown of the thinking process, of contact with reality, and of normal emotional responses. People with schizophrenia often have hallucinations.
Scleroderma Persistent hardening and shrinking of the body’s connective tissue.
Selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) A drug that mimics the effect of estrogen on bone and is thus used to treat or prevent osteoporosis.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) Drugs such as fluoxetine (PROZAC), fluvoxamine (LUVOX), paroxetine (PAXIL), and sertraline (ZOLOFT) that increase levels of serotonin in the brain to treat depression.
Serotonin A clinical transmitter found in many areas of the body, including the brain, where it is found in relatively high concentrations.
Sick sinus syndrome Abnormality in the wiring system of the heart marked by periods of rapid and/or extremely slow heartbeats, which may cause fainting, chest pain, or palpitations.
Sjogren’s syndrome Condition marked by swollen glands, dryness of the mouth and often the eyes, and arthritis.
Spasm A sudden contraction of a muscle that can cause pain and restrict movement.
Spasticity A state of increased tone of a muscle (and an increase in the deep tendon reflexes). For example, with spasticity of the legs (spastic paraplegia) there is an increase in tone of the leg muscles so they feel tight and rigid and the knee jerk reflex is exaggerated.
Statin This term refers to the family of cholesterol-lowering drugs that include lovastatin (MEVACOR), simvastatin (ZOCOR), fluvastatin (LESCOL), and others.
Statistical significance A finding that reaches the conventional statistical definition of importance. Statistical significance does not assure clinical significance.
Steroid A class of chemical compounds that includes cholesterol, sex hormones, and glucocorticoids.
Stool Bowel movement.
Sulfa drug A class of drugs used to treat bacterial and some fungal infections, most often used to treat urinary tract infections because they concentrate in the urine before being excreted.
Sulfonamide An antibiotic drug derived from sulfa compounds.
Sulfonylurea A class of drugs that are used to treat type-2 diabetes by lowering the level of blood sugar and increasing the secretion of insulin by the pancreas.
Sympathomimetic A drug that increases blood pressure and heartbeat. It is related to the chemical adrenaline, produced naturally in the body. Also relieves nasal congestion by causing constriction of blood vessels.
Systemic lupus erythematosus Also known as lupus or SLE. A chronic disease affecting the skin, blood vessels, and various internal organs, often accompanied by arthritis.
Tardive dyskinesia Slow, involuntary movements of the tongue, lips, arms, and other body parts often brought on by certain drugs, especially antipsychotic drugs.
Tetracycline A family of broad-spectrum antibiotics effective against a wide variety of organisms.
Thalassemia An inherited blood disorder that causes anemia and is most often seen in persons of Mediterranean descent.
Thiazide diuretic A class of drugs commonly used to treat hypertension that reduce the amount of water in the body by increasing the flow of urine. They are the first-choice drugs in treating hypertension.
Thiazolidinedione A class of drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar, increasing sensitivity to insulin, and lowering the amount of sugar produced by the liver. These drugs can cause or worsen heart failure.
Thromboembolism A condition in which a blood clot (thrombus), usually in the leg or heart, is dislodged and travels through the blood (embolizes) and lodges elsewhere, usually in the lung or brain.
Thyroid A large gland in front and on either side of the trachea that secretes thyroxine, a hormone regulating the growth of the body. Malfunctioning of the gland (hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism) can cause medical problems.
Topical medication A medication applied to the skin.
Toxic Poisonous; potentially deadly.
Tranquilizer A drug that calms and relieves anxiety, prescribed for a wide variety of conditions but used primarily to treat anxiety and insomnia. Most tranquilizers are potentially addictive.
Tricyclic antidepressant An older class of antidepressants that work by stopping or slowing the absorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
Tuberculosis Also known as TB. An infectious disease, usually of the lungs, marked by fever, night sweats, weight loss, and coughing up blood.
Ulcer Localized loss of surface tissue of the skin or mucous membrane.
Uric acid One of the products made when protein is broken down in the body. It is normally eliminated from the body by the kidneys. Too high levels of uric acid in the body cause gout.
Urinalysis An examination of the urine to detect abnormalities, such as sugar, protein, bacteria, or crystals, and to check the pH.
Urinary retention Inability to urinate, resulting in the accumulation of urine in the bladder.
Urinary tract The system that produces and then eliminates bodily wastes in the urine. It extends from the two kidneys, down the ureters into the bladder, and ends finally with elimination through the urethra.
Ventricular fibrillation A life-threatening rapid, irregular contraction of the heart.
Vertigo Dizziness. A sensation of irregular or whirling motion, either of oneself or of external objects. Elderly people often experience “postural vertigo” when rising from a lying or sitting position.
Vitamin A substance found in foods that does not provide energy but is needed by the body in small amounts for normal functioning.
Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome An abnormality of the heart marked by periods when the heart rate is very fast and must be controlled with medication or electrical shock to the heart (defibrillation).
Xanthine A class of compounds including caffeine, theobromine (in tea), and the stimulant in chocolate.
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