In colloquial language, we often append the suffix -itis to a word to denote a disease or condition of said word. It is in effect an indication of an unhealthy amount of something either abstract or tangible. If someone is being lazy, we can say that he or she has come down with a case of lazyitis. Too much time in front of a computer can afflict you with a nasty case of computeritis. At its roots, –itis means “pertaining to” in Greek, so in some sense, this colloquial use of the suffix is the most faithful to its base etymology.
In more technical language, –itis is used as a medical suffix, and it simply denotes “inflammation of.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people use –itis to immediately denote “infection of.” Let’s list some examples.
Origin: Neo-Latin, appendix (something appended, in this case to the colon) + -itis (inflammation of)
Inflammation of the appendix
Origin: Greek, byrsa (hide/skin) + -itis
Inflammation of the bursa (a pouch or sack that facilitates motion, e.g., suprapatellar bursa)
Origin: Greek, chole (bile) + kystis (bag) + -itis
Inflammation of the gall bladder (which stores bile)
Yes, many times, these conditions come about from infection by a bug that isn’t supposed to be there. But there are many other causes of inflammation, such as:
- Autoimmune reaction
So the next time someone mentions an –itis, always remember that the inflammation of the target organ can be caused by something other than infection. If you wish to convey the fact that an inflammation of the appendix is caused by an infection, you can prepend the word with “infectious,” to make it an infectious appendicitis. Or if you are more certain of the cause of this infection, you can use a bacterial/viral/fungal modifier, for a bacterial appendicitis. For a non-infectious cause, you could say the cause for an inflammation of the liver is a drug-induced hepatitis.
Finally, if someone mentions a type of –itis that you are not familiar with, use the word itself to help you out. I remember hearing the term bronchiolitis last year when learning about COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I didn’t know what bronchiolitis was until I stopped for a second to think about it: the inflammation of the bronchiole(s). Contrast this with bronchitis, which is the inflammation of a main stem bronchus.
So, given this, let me know in the comments what these terms are and what their most common causes are: