Word of the Week: Systemic

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Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.


How to say itSystemic (siss-TEM-ick)

What it means: Throughout the entire body.

Where it comes from: Greek, systema, “to bring together” or “to combine”

A digital illustration of a human body and various organs around it.

Yevhen Lahunov/Getty

Where you might see or hear it: Some diseases only affect one part or system of your body. Others involve more than one part and can even be felt throughout your whole body.

For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) you might think the condition only affects your joints. However, your provider might explain that RA is actually considered a systemic disease because it affects your whole body.

When you might want to use it: Sometimes, an infection that starts in one part of the body can move to other parts or even become a whole-body problem. If this happens, it can make you very sick and can even be life-threatening.

If you have a systemic infection, you will probably be admitted to the hospital so you can be closely watched by your providers, have your symptoms managed, and get treatment for the infection. For example, you may get antibiotics and other medicines through a vein in your arm (intravenous or IV).

You could explain to your loved ones that you had an infection that is “on the move” from where it started and is now affecting your whole body—and your health—in a much more serious way.

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