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Spinalnet - Spinal Cord Injuries glossary
Category: Health and Medicine > Spinal Cord Injuries
Date & country: 20/11/2007, UK
Words: 568


Abdomen
The part of the body`s trunk found below the chest. It contains the structures involved in digestion (e.g., stomach, intestine, etc) and those involved in producing and storing urine (e.g., kidneys, bladder).

Abdominal
Relating to the abdomen.

Abscess
An area of pus that is surrounded and enclosed by damaged, inflamed tissue.

Action potential
The technical term for the ‘messages` that travel along nerve cells. They are waves of electrical activity (impulses) that travel very quickly along the length of the thread-like nerve cells. When they reach the end of the nerve cell they can be passed on to other nerve cells, or to other types of cells, such as those in muscle.

Active (exercise-movement)
Active movements are those that require the contraction of muscles to bring them about. Active exercise is exercise that uses the person`s own muscles and nervous control to move the body. This can be compared to passive exercise, where another person, e.g., a physiotherapist, moves the parts of the body in question.

Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese treatment. Thin metal needles are inserted into selected healing points beneath the skin in order to relieve symptoms such as pain.

Acute
Short term, e.g., a medical problem that lasts for only a short period of time; or the immediate stages after an injury.

Adrenal glands
The body contains two adrenal glands – one positioned on the top surface of each kidney. They produce hormones, including adrenaline.

Adrenaline
An important hormone that is used to prepare the body for emergency situations, e.g., by increasing the heart rate. It has widespread effects on circulation, muscles and the provision of energy.

Afferent
Refers to nerves that carry messages from sense organs towards the spinal cord and brain, i.e., sensory nerves.

Alignment
This generally refers to objects being in a straight line, or being positioned appropriately in relation to each other. The bones of the spine (vertebrae) should be arranged in a particular position, one on top of the other – they have a particular alignment. After a spinal injury the vertebrae may become shifted from their normal position, and th…

Alpha-receptor antagonists
Also called alpha-adrenergic blockers. A group of drugs that affect the activity of the nervous system by blocking certain receptors found at nerve endings. They cause widening of the arteries and a drop in blood pressure.

Anaemia
Low level of the oxygen carrying chemical, haemoglobin, in the red blood cells. It often occurs due to lack of iron. Symptoms include pale skin and easily getting tired.

Anaesthetic
A substance that reduces or removes sensation. General anaesthetics affect the whole body, causing loss of consciousness. Local anaesthetics affect only a particular part of the body by inactivating the nerves that detect sensation in that part of the body.

Anal fissures
Splits in the lining membrane of the anus. They can cause minor bleeding. Avoiding becoming constipated and gently carrying out bowel emptying can help to prevent them. If anal fissures develop, medical treatment may be needed.

Anal reflex
The automatic (reflex) contraction of the anus in response to stimulation in the area around the anus.

Analgesics
Drugs that are used to relieve pain.

Angina
A suffocating type of pain. An example includes pain in the chest when the heart muscle does not receive an adequate blood supply during exercise.

Angiogram
Picture of the heart and blood system that is produced by injecting specific substances into the circulation and taking X-rays to reveal the blood vessels.

Ankylosing spondylitis
A medical condition in which parts of the spine (the joints between the vertebrae) become inflamed. The condition causes back pain and stiffness, and can lead to deformities of the spine and damage to the spinal cord.

Antacids
Drugs that reduce the level of acidity in the stomach (by neutralising the acid that the stomach naturally produces). They can be used to relieve problems with the digestive system, such as stomach ulcers.

Antibacterial
Any substance, e.g., a drug, that is used to treat bacterial infections.

Antibiotics
A type of drug that is effective against bacterial but not viral infections.

Anticoagulant
Chemical that stops blood clotting inappropriately in the blood vessels, or helps to break up already existing clots. Used to prevent deep vein thrombosis and embolisms.

Antiseptics
A substance that kills most disease-causing bacteria, viruses and fungi, and that can be used on the skin of humans, or given internally to prevent or treat infections.

Anus
The opening at the end of the bowel through which faeces are discharged from the body.

Appendicitis
Inflammation of the appendix that can cause pain and occasionally vomiting and diarrhoea.

Appendix
Small structure attached to part of the bowel called the caecum. It has no function in man.

Aromatherapy
Method by which essential oils (natural oils taken from aromatic plants) are used to enhance health and also affect a person`s emotional well-being. The oils may be used in massage, inhalation, bath products and perfumes.

Aromatic
The property of having fragrance/smell.

Artery
Type of blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart. The vessel walls of an artery are thick and muscular, which means they are able to withstand the high pressure of blood coming from the heart.

Arthritis
Inflammation of the joints causing swelling, pain and stiffness.

Artificial urethral sphincter
A device that can restore bladder control in some people with SCI. Consists of an inflatable cuff placed around the bladder neck, with a reservoir and pump, all surgically implanted. The cuff can be inflated and deflated to control the flow of urine out of the bladder.

Ascending colon
The first part of the colon (part of the large intestine). It starts in the lower right hand side of the abdomen (where the small intestine ends) and moves material upwards to the upper right hand side of the abdomen, where the next part of the colon, the transverse colon, starts.

Aseptic technique
When procedures like surgery, or dressing wounds, are carried out in a way that avoids introducing any bacteria, viruses, or fungi to the affected area.

Assisted ventilation
Help with breathing that involves ‘pushing` air into the airways/lungs during breathing in, and allowing air to leave the lungs during breathing out. The air may be oxygen-enriched and supplied using either mechanical or manual equipment, via a tube inserted into the lungs, or simply via a mask placed over the face or nose.

Atelectasis
A condition in which fluid, such as mucus, collecting in the lower parts of the lungs, causes blockages of the air passages. This can make breathing less efficient and makes the person more prone to infection. Signs and symptoms include breathing difficulty, a cough, and if sensation is present, chest pain.

Atonic bladder
Also called a flaccid bladder. This refers to the condition where the muscles in the bladder wall are limp and not able to contract, so that the bladder is not able to empty itself automatically.

Augmentation cystoplasty
Surgical expansion of the bladder, using a piece of bowel, to increase its storage capacity.

Autonomic dysreflexia
Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a very important potential complication of SCI. It is an exaggerated response of the nervous system to a specific trigger, such as an overfull bladder, that occurs because the brain is no longer able to control the body`s response to the trigger. This response involves the blood vessels in the skin and abdomen narrowin…

Autonomic nervous system (ANS)
Subdivision of the peripheral nervous system (part of the nervous system that lies outside of the spinal cord and brain). It is involved in ‘automatic` activities that are not normally under conscious control, for example digestion, breathing, control of blood pressure. The autonomic nervous system can itself be divided into two – the sympathetic n…

Axon
The long thread-like outgrowth/extension of a nerve cell that carries messages away from the main part of the cell (the swelling called the cell body). Each nerve cell has one axon, which can travel long distances through the body, before passing on its message – either to other nerve cells, or to the message`s final destination, such as the brain,…

Axon terminal
The end of the nerve cell, where it connects with another nerve cell, or a different type of cell, such as a muscle. It is here that messages are sent from one cell to another.

Bacteria
Microscopic living organisms that may live in the soil, water or air, or live on or within plants and animals. Many are harmless to humans, but some can lead to infections.

Ball and socket joints
Specific type of moveable joint where two bones – one with a ball shaped end, and the other with a cup shaped end – fit together. The point where the ball of one bone fits into the cup (socket) of the other is the joint. The joint permits movement in all directions. Examples include the shoulder and the hip.

Barrier creams and foams
Contraceptive method that is used by women and designed to prevent pregnancy by stopping the sperm reaching the female`s egg. The cream or foam contains an agent that is poisonous to the sperm.

Beta-blockers
A large group of drugs that affect the activity of the nervous system by blocking certain receptors at nerve endings. Their effects include reducing heart rate and blood pressure.

Bicep
The large muscle at the front of the upper arm that is used to bend the elbow.

Bladder
A hollow sac-shaped organ that stores the urine until it can be removed from the body.

Bladder capacity
Volume of urine that the bladder is able to hold, before the need to empty arises.

Bladder drainage
Removal of urine from the bladder, e.g., using a catheter.

Bladder management
The methods used by a person to deal with bladder problems and keep their bladder emptying regular and controlled, e.g., catheterisation.

Bladder stones
Hard, stone-like structures formed in the urine within the bladder.

Blisters
Sore areas that form due to the skin rubbing against another surface, causing separation of the layers of the skin. Fluid may accumulate between these layers of skin.

Blood clot
A solid mass of blood. Its function is to develop at the site of wounds to stop blood loss. However, clots may form inappropriately within the blood vessels, for example if the blood is flowing too slowly. Blood clots within blood vessels can block the blood supply to certain parts of the body.

Blood pressure (BP)
The pressure within the arteries (blood vessels) resulting from the pumping action of the heart.

Blood vessels
Tubes that carry blood around the body.

Bone grafts
A piece of healthy bone is taken from one part of the body (or from another person) and used to strengthen a damaged bone, or help a broken bone to heal. This technique may be used when vertebrae (bones in the spine) are damaged/broken.

Bone marrow
Soft fatty substance that is found within the spaces inside bone. It may be red or yellow, and is the place where most of the blood cells are formed.

Bone mass
The amount (‘weight`) of bone that is present in the body.

Bowel
Term commonly used to refer to the lower part of the digestive system – the small and large intestines.

Bowel evacuation
The process of emptying the bowels of stools (faeces).

Bowel impaction
Stools (faeces) that are firmly wedged in the bowel, and have become so hard and dry that they cannot be removed from the body naturally. Additional measures must be taken to allow them to be passed.

Bowel obstruction
A blockage of the space inside the bowel, stopping the passage of material through it.

Bowel programme
The routine that a person uses with regard to emptying their bowels.

Brace
A device that is used to support or hold a particular part of the body in a specific position. It can be used to keep bones rigid during a time of healing, help with movement, correct a deformity or relieve pain.

Bradycardia
A slower than normal heart rate – specifically, less than 50 beats per minute.

Brain haemorrhage
Bleeding in or around the brain as a result of broken blood vessels in the brain. It can result in damage to the nerves in the brain.

Brainstem
Area at the base of the brain, located where the brain meets the spinal cord.

Bronchioles
The small tubes forming the airways that travel deep into the lungs. They extend from the two bronchi (branches of the windpipe) and they end in small air sacs called alveoli.

Brown-Séquard syndrome
Nervous system disorder that occurs when the spinal cord has been partially cut through, i.e., the damage is only to one side of the cord. Effects on the rest of the body will depend of whether their nervous supply comes from the damaged side of the cord or the side that remains functional.

Bulbocavernosus reflex
A distinct, automatic (reflex) contraction of the rectum (part of the bowel) that occurs when the tip of the penis (in a man) or clitoris (in a woman) is squeezed.

Bypass surgery
Surgery that makes an alternative route past a blockage or narrowing, e.g., in an artery or vein.

Caecum
A blind-ended ‘pocket` that links the small and large intestines.

Caesarean section
Surgical alternative to natural child birth, where the baby is removed from the womb via an opening that has been cut into the abdomen.

Calcium
A mineral found in bones and teeth. It is also needed in many processes that take place within the body, such as muscle contraction.

Calcium antagonists
A group of drugs that affect the movement of calcium in the muscles in the walls of the heart and blood vessels. Since this calcium movement is important in allowing muscles to contract, these drugs reduce the strength of muscles in the heart and blood vessels. This results in a weaker heartbeat wider blood vessels and has the effect of reducing bl…

Calculus
Stone-like structures formed within the body, particularly in the gall bladder (called gallstones), bladder (called bladder stones) and kidneys (called kidney stones).

Capillaries
Very thin blood vessels. They form extensive networks throughout the body to ensure that all tissues are supplied with enough blood. Blood enters the capillaries from small arteries (arterioles) and then drains from the capillaries into small veins (called venules). The walls of the capillaries are very thin, which makes it easier for substances, s…

Carbohydrate
One of the three main groups of food needed by the body. Examples of carbohydrates include sugars like glucose and sucrose, and starch. They are a useful source of energy for the body.

Carbon dioxide
Gas that is present in the atmosphere. It is produced as a waste product in the body and is usually removed through the lungs by breathing out.

Cardiac
Relating to the heart, e.g., cardiac surgery is surgery on the heart.

Cardiac muscle
Specialised muscle of the heart that has the property of being able to relax and contract throughout life without becoming tired or stopping.

Cardiovascular system
Body system consisting of the heart, blood vessels, and the circulating blood.

Care package
Collection of information, practical adaptations and personal contact details that a person with SCI needs to have around them in order to maintain an independent life.

Carpal tunnel syndrome
Condition caused by continual pressure on a nerve in the wrist. Symptoms include numbness, pain and tingling in the thumb, index and middle fingers.

Cartilage
Dense grey or white tissue that is used to support, provide shape or to protect various parts of the body. For example, cartilage is found in the ear, nose and windpipe. It is also found on the ends of bones within joints, to allow the bones to move against each other more smoothly and to cushion them against shock during movement.

Catheter
The term catheter refers to a thin flexible tube that is inserted through a narrow opening to let fluid pass into, or drain from, the body. A urinary catheter is a thin, flexible tube that is inserted into the bladder, to allow urine to drain to the outside. Catheters are frequently made of either latex or silicone (or a combination of both). Late…

Catheterisation
The process of inserting a catheter.

Cauda equina
The fan- or horsetail-shaped array of nerves leaving the base of the spinal cord (seen below the first lumbar vertebrae).

Cell body
The main part of a nerve cell (neurone) that appears as a swelling on the thread-like cell. It contains important cell structures, like the nucleus.

Central nervous system (CNS)
The brain and spinal cord.

Central pain
Type of pain that is due to damage to the spinal cord itself.

Central pain syndrome
Recognisable pattern of pain that occurs due to damage to the spinal cord itself.

Cerebellum
A large and important structure at the back of the brain.

Cerebrovascular accident
Sudden bursting or blockage of a blood vessel in the brain, which causes serious bleeding or blocks blood circulation. This leads to a stroke.

Cerebrum
The large frontal area of the human brain.

Cervical
Describing or related to the neck. Cervical vertebrae are the vertebrae (bones) at the top of the spine, which are found in the neck. A cervical fracture is a break in the vertebrae in the neck.

Chest drainage
Removal of unwanted fluids (secretions, such as mucus) that have built up in the airways of the lungs. Various methods of drainage may be used, including draining by gravity (postural drainage), or by clapping on the chest walls to help dislodge the secretions (percussion drainage).

Cholesterol
A fat-like material that is present in the blood as well as many body tissues, e.g., the nervous system. A cholesterol level that is too high may lead to blood vessel damage.