what do doctors mean? (glossary)

meanings of the words doctors and nurses use

How many times have you walked out of the clinic and not fully understood some of the words that the gastro team used?

Below is a list of commonly-used terms and what they mean. We hope it helps you understand, but if you are still not sure, please ask your doctor or a health professional to explain more fully.

If the word you are looking for is not listed below, please contact us so we can help you.

The meanings given here refer to the context of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn's and colitis but are for general information and are not a substitute for medical advice. If you are in any doubt about your own or your child's condition, you should consult a doctor. CICRA has taken every reasonable care to ensure accuracy but cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions.


Abscess a localised collection of pus, due to the presence of bacteria

Abdomen tummy, stomach or belly

Acute sudden or short-lived

Aetiology the science of the causes of diseases

5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) anti-inflammatory drugs including Salazopyrine, Mesalazine or Asacol, Olsalzine or Dipentum

Anaemia lowered haemoglobin (protein containing iron) in red blood cells

Anal tag an outgrowth of fleshy skin around the anus, commonly seen in Crohn’s Disease

Anastomosis the joining of two parts of bowel, i.e. following resection

Anus the back passage

Appendicitis inflammation of the appendix, which is cured by surgical removal (appendectomy); the first acute pain experienced by Crohn’s sufferers is often mistaken for appendicitis

Apthous ulcer very small ulcers, seen during endoscopy, in an otherwise normal mucosa; thought by many to be the earliest signs of Crohn’s Disease

Arthralgia pain in the joints

Arthritis inflamed joints with pain, swelling and redness

Azathioprine a drug which suppresses the immune system, otherwise known as Imuran

Bacteria germs that usually respond to antibiotics

Barium a chalk-like liquid which shows up on an X-ray by sticking to the lining of the digestive organs; a Barium Meal is drunk to show the oesophagus and stomach; a Barium Followthrough is a series of X-rays taken some hours later to show the small bowel; a Barium Enema is barium liquid introduced via the anus to show the rectum and colon

Biomarkers proteins in the body that may be measured by laboratory tests to assist in diagnosis and management of disease

Biopsy a very small piece of tissue which is taken from the diseased area for examination under the microscope

Bowel intestine, gut; small bowel – the part of the bowel where food is digested; large bowel or colon – the portion between the small bowel and the anus where excess water and salt in the body is absorbed

Caecum the first part of the colon after the small bowel; the appendix is a blind-ended tube coming out of the caecum

Calprotectin – Faecal calprotectin is a substance that is released into the intestines in excess when there is any inflammation there. Its presence can mean a person has an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease  or Ulcerative Colitis.

Chronic slow or long-lasting, the opposite of acute

Clubbing abnormal shape of finger nails and finger tips; seen in many chronic and/or diarrhoeal diseases, often when the symptoms are mild

Cobblestoning a characteristic feature of long-standing Crohn’s disease. Areas of normal intestinal lining are divided by deep ulcers, giving a vaguely cobblestone-like appearance

Colectomy removal of part of the large bowel

Colitis inflammation of the colon

Colon large intestine (bowel)

Colonoscope flexible instrument that consists of a lighted tube used for examining the inside of the colon via the anus

Colonoscopy the examination of the colon using a colonoscope

Colostomy an artificial opening (stoma) made surgically in the abdominal wall for the colon to be brought to the surface; a bag is worn over the stoma to collect the bowel contents

Constipation infrequent hard stools or motions

Crohn’s Disease a chronic inflammatory disease of unknown origin, which can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus; most often, however, it affects the terminal ileum and the colon

CRP C Reactive Protein a substance made by the liver when there is an inflammatory response in the body; in inflammatory bowel disease CRP levels in the blood are raised and, therefore, measuring blood CRP is quite an easy way of measuring gut inflammation

Dermatitis inflammation of the skin; sometimes a side effect of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Diarrhoea a large number of loose stools

Dilated/dilation swollen or stretched

Distally towards the bottom end of the small intestine or colon

Distention swelling

Double Balloon Enteroscopy an endoscopic technique that allows a specially trained person to navigate the entire small bowel with a lighted tube from either the mouth or the bottom.

Duodenum the first part of the small intestine after the stomach

Dysplasia abnormality in the lining of the bowel

Elemental diet specially formulated liquid meal in a completely digestible form, rich in basic nutrients; taken either by mouth or through a nasogastric tube

Endoscopy examination of the inside of the body via a natural opening, using a lighted  tube

Enema liquid which is put into the bowel via the anus to clear the bowel completely

Enteral nutrition food taken into the gut, usually as a specially designed milk diet

Enteritis inflammation of any part of the bowel

Erythema nodosum formation of tender red lumps on the front of the legs below the knee and seen in some inflammatory diseases

ESR erythrocyte sedimentation rate; a blood test which measures the rate at which red blood cells fall to the bottom of a tube – in ibd, the ESR is raised, i.e. the cells fall faster, making it another marker of inflammation

Exacerbation a worsening state, particularly referring to the symptoms

Faeces stools, motions, body waste

Faecal about faeces

Faecal calprotectin a substance that is released into the intestines in excess when there is any inflammation there. Its presence can mean a person has an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Fibrosis formation of fibrous tissue which bind together usually as part of the healing process following inflammation or injury of the tissues

Fissure very painful crack or split in the skin around the anus

Fistula an abnormal track between two pieces of bowel or between bowel and skin or bladder

Flatus escape of gas from the anus

Gastroscopy examination of the stomach using a lighted  flexible tube via the mouth

Genetics the study of genes; in the context of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, it is used to find out if there are certain genes in certain individuals which might predispose them to develop the disease

Granuloma type of inflammation seen under the microscope, typical in Crohn’s Disease

Gut the intestine or bowel.

Haematology the study of blood; a branch of pathology

Haemoglobin protein containing iron; the red pigment in blood cells

Haemorrhoids/Piles internal or external swollen veins around the anus

Heartburn burning pain characteristic of regurgitation of acidic stomach contents into the oesophagus, felt in the upper abdomen or lower chest

Hyper alimentation extra nutrition, usually given intravenously

IBD inflammatory bowel disease, a generic term for diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

IBS irritable bowel syndrome; common condition caused by altered motility of the bowel, symptoms often mimic IBD but there is no inflammation of the bowel

Ileitis inflammation of the ileum

Ileo-anal pouch a reservoir made by the surgeon where a bag is made out of the end of the small intestine, which is then stitched onto the remaining part of the rectum; it is an alternative to a stoma

Ileocaecal valve the ring of muscle at the end of the small bowel which controls the passage of contents into the caecum; in Crohn’s Disease, it may become scarred or narrowed

Ileostomy removal of the whole of the colon; a piece of small bowel is brought out on to the surface of the abdomen as a stoma (artificial opening) and a bag is worn over the stoma to collect body waste

Ileum the very end of the small bowel, often referred to as the ‘terminal ileum’

Immunology the study of the immune system; Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are diseases where the damage to the intestine is caused by an over-reaction of the body’s own immune system; the standard drugs to treat IBD are immunosuppressives, i.e. drugs which depress the immune system 

Incontinence inability to hold urine or stools, i.e. wetting or soiling

Indeterminate colitis a chronic disease of unknown origin affecting the colon, called indeterminate because the pathologist cannot tell whether it is Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis

Inflammation presence in the tissues of inflammatory cells, mostly derived from the blood. A good example is sunburn: the reddening of the skin after being in the sun too long is not caused by the sun’s rays, it is caused by inflammatory cells moving from the blood into the skin in response to the damage caused to the skin by the sun. Likewise, the reddening of the mucosa in Ulcerative Colitis is due to the influx into the tissue of inflammatory cells from the blood

Inflammatory markers inflammation can increase the levels of some types of proteins found in the blood. Blood tests, such as the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test, can be used to detect inflammation by measuring the levels of these proteins (called inflammatory markers). While levels can be used to monitor response to treatment, these proteins are not specific to the gut and may also increase when there is inflammation elsewhere in the body. In addition, a normal level of CRP does not rule out inflammation. Therefore, tests such as for faecal calprotectin can be helpful (see above)

Intravenous into a vein, e.g. IV Drip, IV injection

Jejunum the long piece of small intestine after the duodenum to about halfway down the small bowel, where the majority of food is digested and absorbed

Lactose milk sugar, digested by lactase, an enzyme normally present in the intestines; some people with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis are lactose intolerant and need a milk-free diet

Leucocytosis increase in the number of white cells in the blood

Leucopaenia decrease in the number of white cells in the blood

Lesion non-specific medical term used to indicate damage to a certain area

Mucosa innermost lining of the intestine; it is mucosa that is looked at during endoscopy

Mucus jelly-like substance produced in the intestine, lung and reproductive tract which helps to protect the surface of these organs

Nasogastric tube fine plastic tube passed into the stomach via the nose

Obstruction narrowing or blockage, e.g. of the bowel

Oesophagus the gullet; a tube which takes food from the back of the mouth to the stomach

Occult blood non-visible blood, e.g. in the stools; only detectable by a laboratory test

Pathologist a scientist who studies the nature of diseases and their diagnosis

Perforation abnormal opening occurring suddenly in a hollow organ like the bowel

Perianal around the anus

Peritoneum membrane lining the inside of the abdominal cavity

Peritonitis inflammation of the peritoneum

Piles/Haemorrhoids internal or external swollen veins around the anus

Proctitis inflammation of the end of the colon, i.e. the rectum

Prognosis prediction based on the past and present state of a patient, as to the future course and outcome of an illness

Proximally towards the oral end of the small intestine or colon

Pyoderma inflammation and/or ulceration of the skin

Rectum the last part of the large bowel immediately above the anus

Relapse worsening or a return of disease activity

Remission ‘better’, usually referring to there being no evidence of disease activity

Resection an operation where an area of diseased bowel is removed and the ends of the bowel joined

Serum albumin is a protein that is produced in the liver which your body needs to be able to grow and to repair any damage

Sigmoid colon the distal part of the colon where the colon becomes the rectum

Sigmoidoscopy examination of the lowest part of the bowel (rectum) by a lighted flexible tube, via the anus

Stenosis narrowing of the bowel due to chronic inflammation and fibrosis; can cause obstruction

Steroids powerful drugs which depress the immune system, also known as corticosteroids; Prednisone is a commonly prescribed corticosteroid

Stoma artificial opening so that the bowel contents can be discharged into a bag applied to the skin

Stoma therapist a nurse trained to care for patients with a stoma

Stools poo, faeces, motions, body waste

Symptoms observations about an illness, departure from normal function or feeling

Stricturoplasties an operation to correct narrowing due to strictures, without the need to remove any part of the bowel

Tenesmus persistent urge to empty the bowel, even if it is empty

Terminal ileum the last part of the small bowel

Total parenteral nutrition nutrition given totally intravenously, often by a catheter inserted surgically into a large vein

Toxic megacolon dilation of the colon, usually in Ulcerative Colitis, which may lead to perforation

Transition the process of getting ready to be moved from children’s services to adult health care, which ends with Transfer, when care is formally handed over from children’s (paediatric) services

Transmural Inflammation penetrating through the full thickness of the bowel wall, characteristic of Crohn’s Disease; not seen in Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative Colitis a chronic inflammatory disease of unknown origin, affecting only the colon and restricted to the mucosa of the colon

Upper GI Series barium meal and follow-through (a term used in the USA)

Uveitis inflammation of the eye

Viruses small germs which do not respond to antibiotics

White cell scan the patient has a small blood sample taken, this is mixed with an isotope, then injected back into the patient; if there is inflammation in the intestine, the white blood cells home in on the affected area and this shows up on the scan

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