Common Psychiatric Terminology

This page provides definitions of terms used in the medical/mental health setting. The definitions are provided to help you better understand the terminology used in these fields and to possibly answer questions you may have about a particular diagnosis. For a more in depth explanation of a particular term, contact the Medical Services Department at 904-259-6211 Ext. 1750.

Anxiety Disorders

  1. Panic Disorder: an anxiety disorder characterized by panic attacks (a discrete period of acute intense anxiety); an example is agoraphobia with panic attacks.
  2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: an anxiety disorder marked by recurrent obsessions or compulsions to perform certain rituals/behaviors repetitively in order to relieve anxiety (the activity usually consumes more than 1 hour per day)
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: the development of characteristic symptoms after a psychologically traumatic event involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrity, or to that of another person.

Mood Disorders

  1. Bipolar Disorders: mood disorders where the patient exhibits both manic and depressive episodes
  2. Depressive Disorders: mood disorders characterized by a pervasive pattern of depressive thoughts and behaviors (loss of interest in all usually pleasurable outlets such as food, sex, work, friends, hobbies, entertainment) that begins by early adulthood and occurs in a variety of contexts.

Personality Disorders

  1. Borderline: a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.

Psychotic Disorders

  1. Delusional (Paranoid) Disorder: characterized by the presence of one or more non-bizarre delusions that persist for at least one month.
  2. Schizophrenia: characterized by a mixture of signs and symptoms (both positive and negative) that have been present for a significant portion of time during a one month period, with some signs of the disorder persisting for at least six months. Symptoms involve a range of cognitive and emotional dysfunctions that include perception, language and communication, volition and drive, and attention, to name a few.

Sleep Disorders

  1. Hypersomnia: excessive sleepiness for at least one month, as evidenced by either prolonged sleep episodes or by daytime sleep episodes occurring almost daily, such that clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning occurs.
  2. Insomnia: difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep, or a pattern of nonrestorative sleep that lasts for at least one month, and causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Medical Diseases and Disorders

Cardiovascular System Disorders

  1. Atherosclerosis: a disorder characterized by thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the arteries with variable deposition of fatty plaques on the arterial walls, resulting in altered functioning of tissues and organs.
  2. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): narrowing of the arteries of the heart sufficiently to prevent adequate blood supply to the heart muscle; usually caused by atherosclerosis; may progress to the point where the heart muscle is damaged due to lack of blood supply.
  3. Hypertension: a condition where the blood pressure is consistently higher than considered normal, as measured on three separate occasions; a pressure of 120/80 or below is considered normal, for cardiovascular risk assignment purposes.
  4. Hypercholesterolemia: increased fats/lipids in the blood due to either an increased rate of production, or decreased rate of breakdown; an increased level can cause atherosclerosis.
  5. Myocardial Infarction (MI or "Heart Attack"): a condition caused by the blockage of one or more of the coronary arteries. Symptoms include prolonged heavy pressure or squeezing pain in the center of the chest, which may spread to the shoulder, arm, fourth and fifth fingers of the left hand, neck, back, teeth, or to the jaw. These symptoms are often are accompanied by nausea and vomiting, sweating, and/or shortness of breath, and may come and go. It is imperative that medical care be obtained without delay should such symptoms occur, as approximately half of all myocardial infarction patients die prior to reaching the hospital.

Endocrine System and Metabolic Disorders

  1. Diabetes: a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism characterized by elevated blood glucose levels, and the presence of glucose in the urine, resulting from inadequate production or utilization of insulin. Several diabetes syndromes exist. Symptoms of diabetes include elevated blood sugar, sugar in the urine, excessive urine production, excessive thirst, and increased food intake.
  2. Gout: a hereditary metabolic disorder, marked by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood and deposits of urates of sodium in and around joints. This disorder is a form of acute arthritis and manifests with inflammation (pain, heat, redness, swelling and impaired function) of the joints.
  3. Hypothyroidism: a condition where inadequate thyroid hormone secretion occurs, resulting in a lower basal metabolism, with symptoms including but not limited to obesity, extreme dry skin and hair, and sluggishness of all functions.

Gastrointestinal System Disorders

  1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): persistent reflux of the acid contents of the stomach into the lower esophageal area; the principal symptom is persistent heartburn.
  2. Peptic Ulcer Disease: the development of an ulcer occurring in the lower esophagus, the lesser curvature of the stomach, the duodenum, or the jejunum. The principal symptom is gnawing pain of uniform quality in the epigastric area, usually manifesting in a rhythmic pattern of one to three hours after a meal.
  3. Hepatitis: inflammation of the liver, which may be caused by a variety of agents, including viral infections, bacterial infections, and physical or chemical agents; it is usually accompanied by systemic signs such as fever, jaundice, and an enlarged liver.

Kidney and Urinary Tract Disorders

  1. Nephropathy: disease of the kidney; including inflammatory, degenerative, and arteriosclerotic areas of damaged/injured tissue.
  2. Renal Failure: acute failure of the kidney to perform its essential functions. Causes include but are not limited to trauma, any condition which limits blood flow to the kidneys, certain drugs/medications, and bacterial toxins. If failure is not reversed, significant health problems occur.

Neurologic Disorders

  1. Alzheimer's Disease: a chronic organic mental disorder usually occurring between the ages of 40 and 60, more often in women than men, and characterized by but not limited to progressive, irreversible loss of memory, deterioration of intellectual functions, and gait and speech dysfunctions.
  2. Dementia: a broad (global) impairment of intellectual function (cognition) that is usually progressive in nature, interfering with normal social and occupational activities.
  3. Seizure Disorder: a recurrent paroxysmal disorder of brain function characterized by sudden, brief attacks of altered consciousness, motor activity, or sensory phenomena. Convulsive seizures are the most common form of attacks.

Respiratory System Disorders

  1. Asthma: paroxysmal shortness of breath accompanied by wheezing, caused by spasm of the airway, and accompanied by swelling of airway tissues and increased mucous secretion. Onset is most frequently in childhood or early adulthood, but no age is exempt.
  2. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: a disease process where the lungs are not able to perform their normal function of ventilation. Characteristic symptoms include persistent shortness of breath on exertion with or without chronic cough.
  3. Emphysema: a pathological distention of lung tissues with destructive changes to the walls of the small airways; breathlessness with exertion may occur.
  4. Sleep Apnea: repetitive, temporary cessation of breathing during sleep; is a symptom of a group of disorders classified according to the mechanism involved.