Some medical words and phrases explained

Palliative care

When the treatment is designed to improve the quality of life of the person. It is important to know that palliative treatment can be started a long way from when death is expected.


A rare condition which people are born with, and where eating certain foods causes brain damage. This can be avoided by a special diet.


Placebos are used in research to try and work out how good a treatment is. We know that many conditions improve no matter what the treatment is. Using a placebo - something that looks like a ‘real’ treatment but isn’t - means that we can work out what the treatment is really doing.

Power of attorney

 A legal document which people make in order to allow a trusted person to make decisions for them. It can be used if the person becomes too unwell to make the decisions themselves in future. There are different types of powers of attorney for different kinds of decisions, related to health or finances.

Press releases

These are issued by medical journals, universities, research companies, and commercial companies and sent to TV, radio and newspapers, in order to attract attention to their work. Some press releases try and explain difficult concepts so that the media coverage is correct. Some press releases overhype the claims. NHS Behind the Headlines often investigates these kinds of stories. 

Primary prevention

To try and stop something from happening in the first place, for example, to use medication to lower blood pressure, in order to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

Proxy marker

t can be hard to do big studies over a long time. Researchers may want quicker answers. For example, if a drug has been developed to prevent dementia, it will take a long time to know if it helps, because dementia usually takes years to develop. A 'proxy marker' might be used instead, for example, like brain changes on scans that many people who later develop dementia have. This isn’t as reliable as waiting to find out how many people develop dementia.