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Glossary of Common Medical Specialties

  • Loren Stein, M.A.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

Medical Specialties

Acupuncture

An ancient medical practice originating in China that uses the insertion of needles into various parts of the body to restore the body's life energy and balance (called Chi). Disruption of the Chi flow results in pain and/or illness, according to practitioners.

Addiction Medicine

The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of substance abuse disorders, including helping treat the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal and its potential medical or psychological complications.

Adolescent Medicine

A medical field that concentrates on the unique health care needs of adolescents.

Allergy and Immunology

The diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the immune system. Conditions can include asthma as well as allergies to food, medications, pollen, and other substances.

Anesthesiology

Physicians in this field specialize in sedating patients during surgery through the administration of anesthesia medication. Anesthesiologists are also responsible for ensuring that the patient remains in stable condition while undergoing surgery; they help do so by monitoring vital signs, heart rate, and other life functions. They can further specialize in long-term treatment and management of pain through the use of medication.

Bariatric Medicine

A medical specialty that studies obesity and weight problems, including their causes, prevention, and treatment.

Blood Banking and Transfusion Medicine

A branch of medicine that focuses on the collection of blood and its transfusion from one individual to another. The blood is stored in blood banks. Each unit of blood (referred to as whole blood) is separated into multiple components, such as red blood cells, plasma, and platelets, among others, and each of these components can be transfused, depending on an individual's medical needs.

Cardiology and Cardiovascular Disease

A sub-specialty of internal medicine focusing on diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the heart. These physicians also manage conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks.

Chiropractic Medicine

This medical discipline is rooted in the theory that disease results from changes in the normal functioning of the nervous system. Treatment methods include massage, body manipulation (most notably of the vertebrae), and other forms of therapy.

Clinical Pharmacology

A field of medicine that studies the effects of drugs on people.

Critical Care Medicine

Practitioners are medical specialists who are qualified to diagnose and manage the care of patients in critical care or intensive care settings.

Cytopathology

This branch of pathology studies the role of cells and cellular alterations in disease.

Dermatology

A medical specialty focusing on skin diseases such as skin cancers, moles, psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and skin conditions arising from other diseases. Dermatologists also treat disorders of the mouth, hair, nails, and external genitalia.

Eating Disorders

This medical field treats people who have abnormal eating patterns that could endanger health or increase the risk for other diseases. People with eating disorders often eat, or refuse to eat, to satisfy psychological or emotional needs, rather than a physical need. The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (not eating enough to maintain normal weight); bulimia nervosa (eating quickly or excessively followed by purging such as vomiting); and binge eating (periods of eating too much to satisfy an irrational craving for food).

Ears, Nose, and Throat (see Otolaryngology)

Electrodiagnostic Medicine

This medical specialty focuses on recording responses to electrical stimulation to diagnose, evaluate, and treat patients who have conditions affecting the neuromuscular, muscular, or nervous systems.

Emergency Medicine

Physicians in this specialty are trained to immediately evaluate, diagnose, stabilize, and treat patients with acute injuries and illnesses, usually in hospital emergency room settings. They also direct emergency medical technicians in the care of patients before they arrive at a hospital.

Endocrinology and Metabolism

A medical specialty that treats disorders of the endocrine system, including the thyroid and adrenal glands, which help control the body's metabolic activity. Conditions include diabetes, nutritional and metabolic disorders, and bone disorders such as osteoporosis.

Family Practice

Family physicians are concerned with the total health care of patients. Family physicians may provide care for patients in both office and hospital settings and are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous diseases and conditions, and manage both common and complex problems. They are also trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of ailments affecting patients of all ages.

Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Gastroenterology diagnoses and treats diseases of the digestive system, including the stomach, intestines, liver, gall bladder, and pancreas. Conditions include ulcers, hepatitis, Colitis, Crohn's Disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and abdominal pain. Hepatology is a branch of medicine concerned with the liver.

Geriatrics

This medical field focuses on the diseases and problems specific to the elderly. Physicians in this specialty are also trained to care for patients with diseases that often affect older people, such as high blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.

Hematology

A medical science that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders and diseases of the blood, spleen, and lymph glands.

HIV/AIDS Medicine

The specialty of treating patients with HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome -- and related opportunistic infections, such as Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumonia, and wasting syndrome.

Hospice and Palliative Medicine

This medical specialty focuses on the study and treatment of patients living with life-threatening or severe advanced illness expected to lead to death. Comprehensive, specialized care -- including physical (primarily pain and symptom management), psychological, and spiritual -- is provided by an interdisciplinary team to patients and their families to help alleviate suffering and promote quality of life.

Infectious Disease Medicine

A medical field concerned with diagnosis, treatment, and preventive measures for infectious bacterial and viral diseases of all types. Conditions include AIDS, influenza, hepatitis, and travel-related illnesses.

Internal Medicine

Internists provide comprehensive, long-term, general medical care for patients in office and hospital settings. They are trained in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of numerous diseases and conditions, and manage the common illnesses and complex problems of adults and the elderly. They typically do not see patients under 18 years old.

Medical Genetics

This medical field is devoted to the study of human diseases that are at least partially genetic (inherited through genes) in origin.

Medical Toxicology

This medical subspecialty focuses on the identification, diagnosis, care, and prevention of poisoning and chemical-induced disease caused by adverse drug reactions, occupational and environmental toxins, and biological agents.

Nuclear Medicine

A branch of medicine that uses small amounts of radioactive substances to image and examine a patient's organs, trace processes in the body, or destroy diseased cells.

Nephrology

This medical specialty diagnoses and treats disorders of the kidneys, including mineral and fluid balance. Its practitioners also manage the care of patients on dialysis.

Neurology

The diagnosis and treatment of diseases or disorders of the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, as well as related nerves, muscles, and their blood supplies. Conditions treated include seizures, migraines, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, among others.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Physicians in this specialty are trained in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated medical problems. They also care for patients during pregnancy and deliver babies.

Occupational and Environmental Medicine

The prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses and injuries due to toxic exposures, stress, or accidents in the workplace. Occupational medicine encompasses a broad range of issues, including workplace safety, pollution control, toxicology, industrial hygiene, ergonomics, physical rehabilitation, and emergency medicine, among others.

Oncology

The branch of medicine is concerned with the study, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer and tumors.

Ophthalmology

Physicians in this medical specialty are concerned with the structure, functions, and diseases of the eye. Conditions include cataracts, glaucoma, and conjunctivitis, among others.

Orthopedics

A branch of medicine that focuses on injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system (the body's muscles, skeleton, and related tissues), including the spine, joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. Conditions treated include cerebral palsy, osteoarthritis, and scoliosis, among others. (The correct title of this specialty is orthopedic surgery, although orthopedics is a generally accepted term.)

Osteopathology

This medical field diagnoses and treats disorders of the neuro-musculoskeletal system (the interrelationship between the nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems). Therapeutic techniques include manipulating the muscles and skeleton, drug therapy, and preventive care, among others.

Otolaryngology

A medical specialty that deals primarily with diseases and disorders affecting the ear, nose, and throat. Conditions include hearing loss, balance, speech disorders, and tumors, among others.

Pain Medicine

This medical specialty is concerned with the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of painful disorders. Pain and its associated symptoms may arise from a single cause, such as postoperative pain or pain associated with cancer. Pain can also constitute the primary problem, such as neuropathic (nervous system) pains or headaches.

Pathology

The branch of medical science that studies the essential nature, causes, and effects of diseases. Pathologists diagnose and monitor disease by examining tissue specimens, cells, and body fluids from laboratory tests.

Pediatrics

Pediatricians provide preventive health care for healthy children and medical care for children who are ill. These physicians are often specially trained to assess the emotional needs and behavior of infants, children, and adolescents.

Pharmaceutical medicine

The medical science focusing on the discovery, research, development, and monitoring of drugs and medicines used in medical treatment.

Plastic Surgery

This medical field deals with cosmetic and reconstructive surgery on various parts of the body, including skin, face, hands, and breasts, among others. Plastic surgery is used to repair, reconstruct, or replace the form and function of a body part. It can be elective, as in a facelift, or medically necessary to treat an injury from accident or disease.

Preventive Medicine

This medical specialty is concerned with preventing disease. Preventive health physicians focus on the health of individuals and defined populations to help protect, promote, and maintain health, as well as prevent disease, disability, and premature death.

Psychiatry

Psychiatrists specialize in mental health. This medical field focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders. Conditions can include depression, anxiety disorders, substance-abuse disorders, and schizophrenia, among others.

Public Health

Physicians in this branch of medicine help guide a community, agency, health organization, medical office, or program to reach their group or community health goals.

Pulmonary

The medical field concerned with disorders of the lungs and airways. Conditions include asthma, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer.

Radiology

The diagnosis or treatment of disease by the use of radiation, such as x-rays, or other special imaging technologies, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

A medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and care of physical disabilities resulting from a variety of medical conditions. These can include musculoskeletal disorders, neurological disease, cardiac-respiratory problems, amputations, and chronic pain.

Rheumatology

This medical science treats diseases of the joints, muscles, bones, and tendons. Conditions -- which can cause inflammation, pain, and swelling -- include arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and lupus.

Sleep Medicine

The study, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with disorders affecting sleep and daytime alertness. The most common sleep disorders are sleep apnea and insomnia. Others include snoring, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, and sleep-related seizures.

Speech Pathology

The medical science concerned with the diagnosis and correction of speech or language defects and disorders. Conditions range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language.

Sports Medicine

The field of medicine concerned with physical fitness and the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries sustained in sports or exercise-related activities.

Surgery

The branch of medicine that treats disease or injury by operative procedures. General surgeons are trained to manage a range of surgical conditions in almost every area of the body. They generally provide pre- and post-operative care of their patients, and manage the care of trauma victims and critically ill surgical patients. There are many sub-specialties within surgery, such as cardiovascular, gynecological, or orthopedic surgery.

Transplantation

Physicians who specialize in the transfer of living tissue, cells, or organs from one part of the body to another part (as with skin grafts), or one person (the donor) to another (the recipient), with the goal of restoring an impaired function. Examples include heart, lung, liver, or cornea transplants.

Urology

A medical specialty focusing on benign and malignant medical conditions of the genital-urinary system, including the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal gland.

Dental Specialists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose, prevent, and treat teeth and gum problems. Most dentists are general practitioners and are trained to handle a wide variety of dental needs. These include filling cavities, removing decay, examining X-rays, minor teeth straightening, repairing fractured teeth, performing corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones, extracting teeth, and making models and measurements for dentures. They also instruct patients how to care for their teeth and gums with flossing, brushing, diet, and other means.

Endodontists

Dentists who specialize in treating disease or injury to the dental pulp of the tooth using root canal or other therapies.

Geriatric Dentists

Dentists who specialize in treating seniors.

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists

Dental radiologists who specialize in diagnosing diseases in the head and neck by using imaging technologies.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Dental surgeons who specialize in treating and surgically correcting diseases, injuries, and defects to the mouth and jaws.

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathologists

Dentists who specialize in studying oral diseases. Oral pathologists examine oral tissues for evidence of abnormalities, such as cancer.

Orthodontists and Dentofacial Orthopedists

Dentists who specialize in straightening teeth with the use of braces and retainers, and diagnose and correct nerve, muscle, or skeletal problems of the mouth and face.

Pedodontists or Pediatric Dentists

Dentists who specialize in dental care for children, from birth through adolescence.

Periodontists

Dentists who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the gums, soft tissues, and the bones supporting the teeth.

Prosthodontists

Dentists who specialize in replacing missing teeth with permanent fixtures such as bridges and crowns or removable fixtures such as dentures.

Public Health Dentists

Dentists who work to promote and encourage good dental health and prevent dental diseases throughout entire communities. These dentists can design and oversee large-scale prevention and dental care programs by collecting and analyzing statistics.

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