Integumentary System – Learning Medical Terminology (2024)

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The Integumentary system consists of your skin, hair, nails, and glands. Although most of us do not think about our skin as an organ, the skin is actually the largest organ of your body. Its primary purpose is to provide protection against microorganisms, ultraviolet light, and injury. It also helps the body with many other functions such as fluid retention, elimination of waste, sensory reception, and regulation of body temperature.

Skin

As mentioned, your skin is the largest organ of your body and serves many important functions. There are three main layers of your skin: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous/fat layer. Each of these layers perform specific tasks.

Epidermis

The epidermis is the thin, outer layer consisting primarily of keratinized cells called keratinocytes. Keratinocytes are formed in the deepest layer of the epidermis and move up to the surface where they eventually shed and are replaced by newer keratinocytes.

Also contained within the basal layer of the epidermis are melanocytes. These cells produce melanin, which contributes to skin color. However, the primary function of melanin is to protect the body from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

In addition, the epidermis contains an important immune agent called Langerhans cells. These cells detect potential harmful substances and determine an appropriate reaction, such as inflammation or tolerance. When they determine the substance is harmful, they trigger the body’s immune response by activating T cells and B cells.

This outer portion of the epidermis is known as the stratum corneum. When undamaged, the stratum corneum has waterproof characteristics that help protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances.

Have you ever wondered why the skin on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet are much thicker than the skin on other parts of your body? It’s because those areas require more protection so the statum corneum is much thicker in those areas.

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Image: “Cross Section of the Three Layers of Skin”bytrustypicsis licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0

Dermis

The second layer of skin is called the dermis. The dermis consists of fibrous and elastic tissue that forms a thick layer, giving the skin flexibility and strength. The dermis also contains nerve endings, sweat glands, sebaceous glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. Different parts of the body will have varying numbers of these elements. For instance, your scalp has numerous hair follicles, but the palms of your hands and soles of your feet have none.

The primary function of the dermis is to help cushion/protect the body and to enable the skin to sense stimuli.

Subcutaneous layer

The subcutaneous layer is sometimes called the fat (adipose) layer or hypodermis layer of the skin. It is the innermost layer and consists of fat and connective tissues. Like the Dermis, the subcutaneous layer helps cushion the body and protect it from injury. However, this layer also has the important role of regulating body temperature. This layer varies in thickness depending on its position on the body. It is generally a fraction of an inch on your eyelids, but may be several inches thick on your abdomen and buttocks.

The subcutaneous layer also connects the skin to the muscles and bones through specialized connective tissue.

Glands

The skin contains two major types of glands: sweat glands and sebaceous glands.

Sweat glands

Sweat glands (sudoriferous glands) are located primarily in the subcutaneous layer of the skin and serve to help regulate body temperature. In addition to regulating temperature, sweat glands also help remove waste through the secretion of sweat.

Sweat glands are found throughout the body but are most numerous on your forehead, armpits, palms and soles of your feet.

Sebaceous gland

Sebaceous glands produce and secrete sebum which is an oily substance that coats and moisturizes your skin. This substance also has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

The production of sebum starts to diminish around the age of 20 and continues to decrease with age.

Hair and Nails

Two of the accessory structures of the Integumentary System are hair and nails.

Hair

As mentioned previously, hair is found on nearly every part of the human body. It is anchored to the skin through hair follicles, which are small, tube-like structures within the dermis layer of the skin. The growth of hair begins in a cluster of cells called papilla. As long as the papilla is viable, new hair will grow to replace any removed hair.

The primary purposes of hair are protection and body temperature regulation. When it is cold outside, the muscles surrounding the hair follicle cause the hair to stand up and trap more heat. When it is warm outside, your sweat glands produce sweat which is caught in the short hairs covering your body and helps cool you down.

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Image: “Normal Pilosebaceous Unit”byNational Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletais marked withCC PDM 1.0

The hair in our nose and eyelashes help keep foreign debris from entering. The hair in our nose also helps maintain moisture in the air we breathe. Our eyebrows and the hair on our heads provide protection from the sun. Eyebrows also help keep moisture from getting into our eyes.

Nails

The nails on our hands and feet are composed of keratin.

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Image: “File:Human nail anatomy.jpg”byKDS444is licensed underCC BY-SA 3.0

A: nail plate; B: lunula; C: root; D: sinus; E: matrix; F: nail bed: G: hyponychium; H: free margin

Nail plate

This is the hardest part of the nail and is made of hardened keratin. The layers of dead, compacted cells create a strong but flexible shape.

Lunula

This is the visible portion of the nail matrix. It is white and half-moon in shape.

Root

The nail root is embedded under the skin and attached to the matrix.

Sinus

This is where the nail root is located.

Matrix

This is the area where the nail starts to grow. The matrix creates new cells which push out the older cells and form nails.

Nail bed

The nailbed is composed of the skin (epidermis and dermis) beneath the nail plate.

Hyponychium

The hyponychium is the skin just beneath the free edge of the nail, near your fingertip. It is sometimes referred to as the “quick.”

Free margin

This is the end or distal portion of the nail plate. It is the portion of the nail that can be cut without damage.

Combining Forms Related to the Integumentary System

The following table includes combining forms related to the Integumentary System. It is not inclusive but does contain a fairly comprehensive list. This list also includes some related combining forms not specifically connected to the Integumentary System.

Combining Form

Pronunciation

Meaning

Example

aden/o

ă-dĭn-ō

gland

adenocyst (a cystic tumor arising from a gland)

adip/o

lip/o

steat/o

ă-dĭp-ō

lĭp-ō

stē-ăt-ō

fat

adiposis (excessive accumulation of fat)

lipocyte (fat cell)

steatoma (fatty tumor)

albin/o

leuk/o

ăl-bī-nō

loo-kō

white

albinuria (pertaining to passing of white or colorless urine of low specific gravity)

leukocyte (white blood cell)

bas/i

basi/o

bas/o

bās-ē

bās-ē-ō

bās-ō

base

basifacial (relating to the lower portion of the face)

basophil (a cell with granules that stain with basic dyes)

chromat/o

krō-măt-ō

color

chromatic (pertaining to color)

cirrh/o

xanth/o

sĭr-ō

zăn-thō

yellow

cirrhosis (abnormal condition of the liver, causing a yellow tinge to the skin)

xanthous (pertaining to yellow)

cutane/o

derm/o

dermat/o

kū-tā-nē-ō

dĕrm-ō

dĕrm-ăt-ō

skin

cutaneous (pertaining to the skin)

dermal (pertaining to the skin)

dermatitis (inflammation of the skin)

cyan/o

sī-ăn-ō

blue

cyanosis (abnormal condition of bluish skin)

cyt/o

sīt-ō

cell

cytocide (an agent that kills cells)

erythem/o

erythemat/o

erythr/o

ĕr-ĭ-thē-mō

ĕr-ĭ-thē-măt-ō

ĕr-ĭth-rō

red

erythema (reddening of the skin)

erythematous (pertaining to red)

erythrocyte (red blood cell)

eti/o

ĕ-tē-ō

cause, causation

etiology (study of the causes of disease)

hidr/o

sudor/o

hī-drō

sūd-ōr-ō

sweat

hidrosis (abnormal condition of sweat; excessive sweating)

sudoriferous (conveying or producing sweat)

hydr/o

hī-drō

water

hydrocele (the accumulation of serous fluid in a saclike cavity)

(note: hidr/o and hydr/o are pronounced the same but have different meanings)

ichthy/o

ĭk-thē-ō

Fish, dry, scaly

ichthyosis (abnormal condition in which the skin is dry and scaly, resembling fish skin)

idi/o

ĭd-ē-ō

unknown, peculiar

idiopathic (relating to a disease of unknown origin/cause)

kerat/o

kĕr-ă-tō

horny, hard tissue; also means cornea

keratinocyte (any of the cells in the skin that synthesize keratin)

melan/o

mĕl-ŭh-nō

black

melanoma (cancerous tumor of dark, blackish pigmented cells)

morph/o

mōr-fō

form, shape

morphometry (measurement of shapes/forms)

myc/o

mī-cō

fungus

mycoid (resembling fungus; fungus-like)

necr/o

nĕk-rō

dead

necrosis (death of cells, tissues or organs)

onych/o

ŏ-nĕ-kō

nail

onychomalacia (softening of the nail)

path/o

păth-ō

disease

pathology (the study of disease)

pil/o

trich/o

pī-lō

trĭk-ō

hair

pilonidal (pertaining to containing hairs; most often in dermoid cysts)

trichoanesthesia (pertaining to loss of sensation of the hair)

rhytid/o

rĭ-tĭd-ō

wrinkle

rhytidectomy (surgical removal of wrinkles by plastic surgery)

scler/o

sklĕr-ō

hardening; also means sclera

sclerodermatitis (inflammation of the skin, accompanied by thickening and hardening)

seb/o

sĕb-ō

sebum

Seborrhea (overactivity of the sebaceous glands, resulting in an excessive amount of sebum)

squam/o

skwā-mō

scale

squamous (pertaining to scale-like)

therm/o

thĕr-mō

heat

thermometer (an instrument for measuring heat)

xen/o

zēn-ō

foreign, strange

xenogenic (pertaining to originating outside of the organism)

xer/o

zēr-ō

dry

xeroderma (dry skin)

Abbreviations

The following is a list of abbreviations related to the Integumentary System, but is not intended to be all-inclusive.

Abbreviation

Meaning

Abbreviation

Meaning

BCC

basal cell carcinoma

ID

intradermal (injection)

Bx, bx

biopsy

IP

ice pack

C&S

culture and sensitivity

IV

intravenous

decub

decubitus ulcer (also known as a pressure ulcer)

MHP

moist hot pack

Derm.

dermatology

MM

malignant melanoma

Dx, dx

diagnosis

PE

physical examination

FH

family history

PPD

purified protein derivative (skin test for tuberculosis)

FS

frozen section

SCC

squamous cell carcinoma

H

hypodermic

SubQ, Sub-Q

subcutaneous

H&P

history and physical

Tx, tx

treatment

Hx, hx

history

ung.

ointment

I&D

incision and drainage

UV

ultraviolet

Common Tests and Procedures

The following is a list of common tests and procedures relating to the Integumentary System, but is not intended to be all-inclusive.

Test/procedure

Explanation

biopsy

removal of a tissue sample for microscopic examination

Botox injection

injection used primarily to reduce facial wrinkles by preventing muscles from contracting; may also be used for back/neck spasms, overactive bladder, and migraines

chemical peel

applying a chemical solution to the skin, causing exfoliation

debridement

removal of dead/damaged tissue

dermabrasion

surgical removal of damaged or unwanted skin (moles, tattoos, scars, wrinkles) using abrasive materials

dermatome

an instrument for cutting thin slices of skin for grafting

laser resurfacing

Treatment used to reduce facial wrinkles and skin irregularities by directing short, concentrated pulsating beams of light, removing the treated skin layer by layer

patch test

suspected allergens are placed on the skin’s surface and covered for several days to see if/how the skin reacts

punch biopsy

type of biopsy that uses an instrument similar to a hole-punch to remove a sample

scratch test

Suspected allergens are scratched into the skin using an instrument to see if/how the skin reacts

Wood’s lamp

Produces an ultraviolet light used to diagnose various species of tinea manus (ringworm) and other bacterial or fungal infections

Common Pathology Terms

Naturally, there are many types of diseases and conditions related to the Integumentary System – far too many to list in this text. However, the following list includes some of the most common.

Disease/condition

Description

Acne

Inflammatory skin disorder often caused by overactive sebaceous glands. It can also be caused by genetics, hormones, menstruation, stress, foods with high glycemic (sugar) content, and some medications.

Actinic keratosis

Precancerous condition; scaly spots or patches on the top layer of the skin caused by chronic sun exposure

Alopecia

Condition causing hair to fall out in small patches when your autoimmune system attacks the hair follicles

Basal cell carcinoma

A common type of slow-growing skin cancer caused by chronic sun exposure. BCCs may look like open sores, red patches on the skin, or shiny bumps or growths.

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Image: “File:Basal cell carcinoma2.JPG”byJames Heilman, MDis licensed underCC BY 3.0

Burn

Burns are thermal injuries to the skin caused by a variety of heat sources. Burns are typically classified as first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. A first-degree burn will appear as red, non-blistered skin. A second-degree burn contains blisters with some thickening of the skin. A third-degree burn has a leathery appearance with a high degree of thickness.

This is a healing, second-degree burn.

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Image: “second degree burn healing (day 5)”byMindfu

l Oneis licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is a severe, third-degree burn.

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Image: “Advanced third degree burns”byRosenwaldis licensedunder CC BY-SA 2.0

Callus

Thickened, hardened part of the skin, commonly found in areas of the skin subject to frequent friction

Carbuncle

Cluster of red, swollen and painful boils connected to each other under the skin often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus

Cellulitis

Painful, and sometimes serious bacterial skin infection, often affecting the lower legs. It often first appears as a red, swollen area that is hot and tender to touch. If untreated, it can become life threatening.

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“Early cellulitis right knee”byjlcampbell104is marked withCC PDM 1.0

Chloasma

Brownish, irregularly shaped patches, often found on the faces of pregnant women

Comedo

Caused by a clogged hair follicle. It can be open (blackhead) or closed (whitehead) and occur with/without acne

Contusion

Bruise; discoloration of the skin after small veins and capillaries under the skin break

Cyst (skin)

Fluid-filled lump just under the skin

Decubitus ulcer

(pressure ulcer, bedsore)

Open wound on the skin formed when the pressure from the body’s weight cuts off the blood supply to the skin and injures the tissues. Mostly commonly form on the buttocks/hips, back/shoulder blades, tailbone, ankles/heel, and elbows. There are four stages. In stage 1, the skin is red or discolored, but is still intact; in stage II, the skin breaks open to review a shallow ulcer or blister; in stage III, the ulcer is deeper and affects the subcutaneous/fat layer of the skin and the wound may contain pus; in stage IV, the ulcer moves deeper and affects the muscles and/or bone.

Dermatitis

Inflammation of the skin, caused by a variety of conditions.

Ecchymosis

A discoloration of the skin caused by bleeding underneath (bruise).

Eczema

Condition that causes the skin to become red and itchy. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.

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Image: “Eczema behind knee”byCare_SMCis licensed underCC BY-ND 2.0

Frostbite

Injury occuring when the skin is exposed to extremely cold conditions, causing the skin and underlying tissues to freeze. It is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. In cases of extreme frostbite, the skin will turn black and hard as the tissue dies.

Furnuncle (boil)

Infection of a hair follicle and nearby tissue

Hematoma

Bruise; An area of blood that has collected outside of the larger blood vessels, commonly due to injuries or trauma. Similar to a contusion, but involving larger blood vessels.

Hirtsuism

Excessive hair growth in women resulting in the growth of dark/coarse hair in a male-like pattern.

Impetigo

Highly contagious skin infection that appears as red sores on the face around the nose and mouth or the hands and feet. When the sores burst, they develop a yellowish crust. Most commonly found in infants and children.

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Image By James Heilman, MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90030642

Laceration

Cut or tear on the skin

Lyme Disease

Bacterial infection transmitted by infected ticks. Symptoms generally start with a rash, fever, headache and fatigue, but if untreated, may spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system.

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Image: “File:Bullseye Lyme Disease Rash.jpg”byHannah Garrisonis licensed underCC BY-SA 2.5

Macule

Small spots or blemishes on the surface of the skin. Freckles are a type of macule.

Malignant melanoma

An aggressive form of skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. It can develop anywhere on the body but most commonly occurs on areas that have had prolonged sun exposure, such as the back, legs, arms, and face. The first signs include: changes in an existing mole or thedevelopment of new pigmented or unusual-looking skin growths. To help identify MM, think of the letters ABCDE. A = assymmetrical shape; B = irregular border; C = changes in color or uneven distribution of color; D = diameter larger than ¼ inch; E = evolving or changing over time.MMmay present with all of the signs or just one or two.

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Image By Unknown photographer – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 9188 (image) (next)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24053009

Papule

Small, raised spot or bump on the skin

Pediculosis

(lice)

Infestation of hairy parts of the body, such as the head, body, or pubic region by lice, causing itching. Pediculosis is easily transferred from person to person during direct contact, including wearing of infected clothing.

Petechiae

Tiny purple, red, or brown spots on the skin, usually the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks, caused by bleeding under the skin. When you press on the spots, they will not turn white. The cause of petechiae can be an infection or a reaction to medications.

Psoriasis

Chronic, inflammatory skin disorder marked by the developing of reddenned patches of skin with whitish, scaly plaques or patches, most commonly found on the knees, elbows, trunk, and scalp. The affected skin may itch, burn, and sometimes bleed. It is not contagious.

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Image By Gzzz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88694219

Pustule

Small bumps on the skin containing fluid or pus. They may develop on any part of the body, but are found most commonly on the back, chest and face.

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“Pustule from Fire Ant bite”byeuthmanis licensed underCC BY 2.0

Rosacea

Chronic condition that causes flushing and redness of the face, neck, and chest. Sometimes, small, red, pus-filled bumps also appear. Symptoms may come and go.

Scabies

An itchy skin condition caused by a tiny, burrowing mite. Scabies is extremely contagious and spread through close physical contact. Signs of scabies include itching and thin, irregular burrow tracks on the skin.

Seborrheic keratosis

Noncancerous skin growth, usually brown, black, or light tan that look waxy, scaly, and slightly raised.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Type of cancer commonly found in the mouth, esophagus, bronchi, lungs, vagin*, and uterine cervix. It is the second most common form of skin cancer and, if caught early, is curable. SCCs may appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough/thickened skin, or raised growths with a central depression. They may crust over, itch, or bleed.

Tinea

A group of fungal dieases including ringworm, arthlete’s food, and jock itch.

Vesicle

Clear, fluid-filled blister

Vitiligo

Chronic skin disease that results in patchy areas without pigmentation. There is no known cause.

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Image: “File:Eyelid vitiligo 06.jpg”byMaria Sieglinda von Nudeldorfis licensed underCC BY-SA 4.0

Wart

Small, benign skin tumor caused by the human papilomavirus (HPV).

Wheal (welt, hive)

A redish, swollen, itchy area on the skin, often a sign of an allergy.

Practice Activities

Part of learning medical terminology is to practice defining terms based on their word elements. As discussed in Chapter 1, these definitions will provide a general definition, but may need to be refined using a medical dictionary.

If you remember, when you define a medical term based on the word elements, you will:

  1. Define the suffix or last part of the word first
  2. Define the first part of the word next (which may be a prefix or a word root)
  3. Then define the remaining word parts in order.

Adipoid contains the following word parts: adip/o (meaning fat) and –oid (suffix meaning resembling). Therefore based on the word parts, adipoid would be defined as “resembling fat.” In Taber’s 20th edition, this word is defined as “Fatlike; lipoid.”

The word idiopathic contains 3 word elements: idi/o (meaning unknown or peculiar), path/o (meaning disease), and –ic (suffix meaning pertaining to). Based on the word parts, idiopathic would be defined as “pertaining to unknown or peculiar disease.” Taber’s 20th edition defines iodiopathic as “pertaining to illnesses whose cause is either uncertain or as yet undetermined.”

Your turn

Activity 1

To assist in your learning, break the following medical terms into their word elements and define the medical term based on the meaning of each word part. Then, using a medical dictionary of your choice, compare the word part definition to the dictionary definition.

  • Cyanotic
  • Hidradenitis
  • Xerocyte
  • Dermatomycosis
  • Pathologist
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Hypodermic
  • Sclerodermatitis
  • Onychomycosis
  • Dermoplasty

Activity 2

Create medical terms to match the following definitions.

  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Tumor of the nail
  • Disease of the hair
  • Surgical excision of fat
  • Abnormal condition of no sweat
  • Pertaining to redness
  • Study of cells
  • Abnormal condition of blue
  • Pertaining to color
  • The study of shapes or forms

Activity 1 Answers

Your dictionary definition will vary depending on the one you used, but the word parts are defined as follows:

  • Cyanotic: cyan/o + -tic (pertaining to blue)
  • Hidradenitis: hidr/o + aden/o + -it is (inflammation of sweat gland)
  • Xerocyte: xer/o + -cyte (cell dry; Note: this is a medical term that doesn’t follow the normal definition guidelines. It would make more sense to define it as a “dry cell.”)
  • Dermatomycosis: dermat/o + myc/o + -osis (abnormal condition of skin fungus)
  • Pathologist: path/o + -ologist (specialist in the study of disease)
  • Hydrotherapy: hydr/o + -therapy (treatment [using] water)
  • Hypodermic: hypo- + derm/o + -ic (pertaining to below the skin)
  • Sclerodermatitis: scler/o + dermat/o + -itis (inflammation [causing] hardening of the skin
  • Onychomycosis: onych/o + myc/o + -osis (abnormal condition of nail fungus)
  • Dermoplasty: derm/o + -plasty (surgical repair of the skin)

Activity 2 Answers

Although several of the definitions have multiple combining forms and/or suffixes that mean the same thing, the answers below reflect the most common version of the term.

  • Dermatitis
  • Onychoma
  • Trichopathy
  • Lipectomy
  • Anhidrosis
  • Erythematous
  • Cytology
  • Cyanosis
  • Chromatic
  • Morphology
Integumentary System – Learning Medical Terminology (2024)

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