Glossary

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AIDS

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome — AIDS is a syndrome, or group of diseases, that can be fatal. HIV infection becomes AIDS when a person’s T-cell count goes below 200 and she or he becomes ill with one of the health problems common in people with AIDS. HIV/AIDS infection is life-long, there is no cure as of yet.

allergen

A foreign substance to the body’s immune system that may cause an allergic reaction.

allergies

Disorders that involve an immune response in the body. Allergies are reactions to allergens such as plant pollen, other grasses and weeds, certain foods, rubber latex, insect bites, or certain drugs.

alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)

AFP is protein made by the fetus’ liver, in the fetal gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the yolk sac. During pregnancy, AFP crosses into the mother’s blood. The level of AFP in the mother’s blood can be measured to screen for disorders such as neural tube defects and Down Syndrome. The mother’s AFP levels tend to be high with neural tube defects such as anencephaly and Spinal Bifida, and low with Down Syndrome.

alveoli cells

tiny glands in the breast that produce milk.

amenorrhea

(pronounced: a-meh-nuh-ree-uh) When a girl hasn’t started her period by the time she is 16 years old or 3 years after starting puberty, has not developed signs of puberty by age 14, or has had normal periods but has stopped menstruating for some reason other than pregnancy.

amniocentesis

If necessary, this test is performed between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy and can indicate chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome, or genetic disorders such as Tay Sachs disease, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, and others. It also can detect the baby’s sex and risk of spina bifida (a condition in which the brain or spine do not develop properly).

amniotic fluid

Clear, slightly yellowish liquid that surrounds the unborn baby (fetus) during pregnancy. It is contained in the amniotic sac.

amniotic sac

During pregnancy, the amniotic sac is formed within the uterus and encloses the fetus. This sac bursts normally during the birthing process, releasing the amniotic fluid. A popular term for the amniotic sac with the amniotic fluid is the bag of waters.

amputation

Removal of part or all of a body part, except for organs in the body. It usually takes place during surgery in a hospital operating room. It is done because of injury to the body part or problems from diabetes, hardening of the arteries, or any other illness that impairs blood circulation. It is also done to prevent the spread of bone cancer. Many amputees are able to be fitted with an artificial limb.

anemia

When the amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin (the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to organs) becomes reduced, causing fatigue that can be severe

aneurysm

A thin or weak spot in an artery that balloons out and can burst.

angina

A recurring pain or discomfort in the chest that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood. It is a common symptom of coronary heart disease, which occurs when vessels that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to atherosclerosis. Angina feels like a pressing or squeezing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, or back. Angina is usually is brought on by exertion, and relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed angina medicine.

anorexia nervosa

An eating disorder caused by a person having a distorted body image and not consuming the appropriate calorie intake resulting in severe weight loss.

anorexia nervosa

An eating disorder caused by a person having a distorted body image and not consuming the appropriate calorie intake resulting in severe weight loss.

anovulation

Absence of ovulation.

antibiotics

Drugs used to fight many infections caused by bacteria. Some antibiotics are effective against only certain types of bacteria; others can effectively fight a wide range of bacteria. Antibiotics do not work against viral infections.

antibodies

Proteins made by certain white blood cells in response to a foreign sub- stance (antigen). Antibodies neutralize or destroy antigens.

antidepressants

A name for a category of medications used to treat depression.

antihistamines

Drugs that are used to prevent or relieve the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies by preventing the action of a substance called histamine, which is produced by the body. Histamine can cause itching, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and sometimes can make breathing difficult. Some of these drugs are also used to prevent motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Since they may cause drowsiness as a side effect, some of them may be used to help people go to sleep

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