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Anatomical Terminology



Standardized language is used to precisely communicate the exact location of a particular organ or disease process in the human body. Human anatomy is the study of the structure of the human body, and anatomical terminology is the vocabulary used to describe this structure. With the anatomical position as a point of reference, specific words refer to particular body regions, body cavities, and the organs contained within those cavities. Locations are further pinpointed by dividing the body into sections via particular planes. Isolated from particular planes, organ tissues are analyzed at the microscopic level through the study of histology.

At A Glance

  • In the anatomical position, the body is erect, with the face directed forward, and the arms are at the side with the palms of the hands facing forward. The anatomical position serves as a reference point when using directional and regional terms.
  • Directional terms serve to describe position of structures relative to other structures: an organ described as rostral is closer to the head, whereas a caudal organ is closer in proximity to the feet.
  • Body regions, each containing a specific set of organs, are used to communicate in a clinical setting: the epigastric region includes the stomach, liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
  • Sagittal planes separate the body into left and right sides, while frontal (coronal) planes separate the body into anterior and posterior parts and transverse planes divide the body superiorly and inferiorly.
  • Body cavities are membrane-lined spaces containing internal organs: the body cavities are dorsal/posterior, cranial, vertebral, ventral/anterior, thoracic, and abdominopelvic.