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Medical Interpreting: The Respiratory System

As we move through the systems, you’ll start to see how they fit together like puzzle pieces. This is one of the most important things to keep in mind as a medical interpreter. When you can see the bodily systems in a holistic way, you can anticipate medical vocabulary the doctor might use. This is useful for both pre-study and for lowering the register during assignments.

The next modules we are going to talking about correspond to each bodily system.

  • Respiratory System
  • Muscular System
  • Skeletal System
  • Circulatory System
  • Gastrointestinal System
  • Integumentary System
  • Nervous System
  • Inmune System
  • Most Common Scans

Our Medical Interpreting series continues this week with the respiratory system.

Medical Interpreting: The Respiratory System

The Respiratory System: An Overview

The respiratory system contains the lungs on either side and the nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi in the middle. The respiratory system is also known as the respiratory apparatus or ventilatory system. It’s the system responsible for gas exchange in the body. This occurs in millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli. The alveoli have a very rich blood supply, giving the blood close contact with the air. Air is pumped using the respiratory muscles. It enters through the nose or mouth and travels down the trachea. It then flows through the bronchi, and into the secondary and tertiary bronchi.

These are progressively smaller tubes known as the bronchioles. The bronchioles open into the alveoli, allowing for gas exchange. The Respiratory system is responsible for said gas exchange, oration, olfactory (smelling) functions, defense against irritants, clot dissolution, and vocalization.

The Functions of the Respiratory System

The respiratory system has several basic functions. These include:

  • Gas exchange: The lungs take in oxygen and expel CO2 and other waste gasses.
  • Local defenses: When nerve endings in the nose and throat are irritated, the lungs contract in a cough reflex. This expels the irritant or trapping it in the mucous along the inside of the trachea. The mucus is then coughed out or swallowed.
  • Clot dissolution: Fibrinolysis is the process that prevents blood clots from growing and becoming problematic. The lungs contain a fibrinolytic system to dissolve clots (or embolisms) that have arrived in the pulmonary circulation.
  • Vocalization: Air movement through the larynx, pharynx, and mouth allows humans to speak. Our vocal folds (located in the larynx) require this movement to vibrate and produce sound.

Common Respiratory Diseases and Maladies

The respiratory tract is particularly prone to illness as it’s in constant contact with irritants in the outside world. Here are a few of the most common respiratory system diseases and maladies you may encounter during interpreting assignments:

  • Asthma: The most common chronic respiratory condition, asthma causes difficulty breathing due to airway inflammation. Symptoms include dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthma often presents in childhood.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD is an umbrella term that covers several disorders, diseases, and maladies. These maladies cause breathlessness or the inability to exhale normally. COPD is most generally caused by smoking or exposure to smoking.
  • Bronchitis: An example of COPD is chronic bronchitis, characterized by a chronic cough with sputum (mucus from the lungs). This cough presents especially in the morning.
  • Emphysema: Another example of COPD is emphysema. In this case, smoke or other irritants have damaged the air sacs in the lungs. The irritants damage the air sacs to the point where they can no longer repair themselves.
  • Lung Cancer: lung cancer can be difficult to detect as it can develop in any part of the lungs. DNA mutations in the cells cause them to multiply and form abnormally. This creates tumors that interfere with respiratory function. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the US.
  • Cystic Fibrosis/Bronchiectasis: Cystic fibrosis is a genetic respiratory disease. A defective gene creates thick, sticky mucus that clogs up tubes and passageways. This causes repeat, severe lung infections. Cystic fibrosis also affects the pancreas, causing obstructions that prevent enzymes from breaking down nutrients. People with cystic fibrosis also develop bronchiectasis. Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the bronchial tubes are abnormally dilated. Mucus pools in the extra space and causes infections, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Bronchiectasis is possible to contract without cystic fibrosis and it’s more prevalent in women than men.
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a common illness caused by infections (bacterial, fungal, or viral) in the air sacs in the lungs. Symptoms include cough, fever, shaking, chills, and shortness of breath. Children and seniors are most prone to pneumonia due to their lowered immune status.
  • Pleural Effusion: Pleural effusion occurs when fluid collects between the lung and the chest wall. The fluid can collect for a number of reasons, including congestive heart failure, cancer, or pneumonia. Symptoms include chest discomfort and shortness of breath.

Medical Terminology for Interpreters: An eLearning Course by Global Arena

Are you trying to learn more about anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology? Are you pressed for time and unable to take a regularly scheduled lecture course? Global Arena’s eLearning course, Medical Terminology for Interpreters, gives foundational medical knowledge for all interpreting skill levels.

It provides a basic overview of common providers, appointments, scans, procedures, and the bodily systems. You can complete it at your own pace, and it requires no downloads. You can log into your account from any device and pick up where you left off.

The course is timed for three hours and includes a mix of interactive, informative, and review slides. Upon successful completion of all reviews, you’ll receive a Certificate of Course Completion worth three CEUs. The course meets CCHI and NBCMI standards for interpreter training and counts towards your credit hours for exam pre-requisites.

You’ll also receive our Medical Terminology glossary, complete with spaces to add vocabulary in your target language. The course is updated regularly, and registration includes lifetime access to all new information and materials.

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