In recent months, many people have begun once again to go abroad to study, travel, or visit family. But, as the past few years have taught us, it's important to be mindful of our health as we explore new places!
Sorting out health care, pharmacies, or even trips to the emergency room can be overwhelming and stressful--doubly so if it's in a whole other language.
Don't worry! With this guide, you'll go beyond just basic body parts. While I hope you never need to use most of these words, and you stay healthy as a horse (that is, just really healthy!). Still, it's smart to be prepared. Whether you're picking up medicine for a headache at a pharmacy, or telling a doctor your allergies, this list of 101 English medical words will cover everything you should know about describing pain and seeking health care.
Let's Start With an English Linguistics Lesson!
Many English medical terms are very old and come from Latin or Greek. You'll find that many disease names originally come from those roots. Many medical words in English start with prefixes (parts of a word that comes before the main root) or end with suffixes (parts of a word that go after the main root) that have significance.
"dis" is a negative prefix. It means apart, not or none. When it goes before a word, like "locate" it makes the word opposite from its original root meaning.
- Dislike - to not like something.
- Disappear - to not appear, to go away.
- Dislocate - to be out of its original shape or location.
A common medical suffix in English is "-algia." This means pain or ache. When you attach this suffix to a word, it expresses pain. For example, "myalgia" is pain in the muscles.
You don't need to memorize all prefixes or suffixes, but they can come in handy if you aren't familiar with a medical word in English. See if you can spot any patterns in prefixes or suffixes below:
For more on prefixes, suffixes and other linguistics, check out this guide!
101 English Medical Words to Learn
|Abnormal||to be not normal||Her heart rate was abnormal. It had an inconsistent rhythm.|
|Ache||consistent pain or discomfort, often dull||I had a backache all day after lifting those boxes|
|Allergies||a hypersensitive immune response to a foreign substance, usually food, dust or plants||My son has a severe allergy to peanuts, so he can't eat peanut butter.|
|Ambulance||an emergency vehicle that takes you to the hospital||The ambulance had its sirens on, so we knew to pull over to let it go by.|
|Amnesia||a condition that results in the loss of memory||The woman suffered amnesia from her fall, and couldn't remember her accident.|
|Amputate||permanent removal of a limb||The doctor had to amputate his toes after he suffered from frostbite.|
|Anemic (US)/Anaemic (UK)||to have a low red blood cell count||I need to take iron supplements because I am anemic.|
|Antibiotics||medication that kills bacteria and fights infections||I will have to take antibiotics to fight the infection in my cut.|
|Anti-depressants||medicine that alleviate clinical depression||After she was diagnosed with clinical depression, she began taking anti-depressants to feel better.|
|Appointment||an arranged time to meet with a medical professional||I'd like to schedule an appointment with a specialist soon.|
|Asthma||a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe||They carry an inhaler when they run because of their asthma.|
|Bacteria||small unicellular micro-organisms. Some types can cause infections||Washing your hands prevents the spread of bacteria.|
|Benign||non-harmful or not dangerous, not cancerous||The tumor is benign, so it may grow larger but won't spread to other parts of the body|
|Biopsy||examination of human tissue to determine a diagnosis||The doctor recommended a mole biopsy to check that it isn't cancerous.|
|Bite||a wound resulting from a human or animal's teeth||Insect bites usually itch, so it's good to put some cream on it.|
|Blood count||The amount and type of blood cells in your body||The physical includes a blood count test to look for immune disorders.|
|Blood donor||someone who gives blood for hospitals or clinics, so that patients who suffer from blood less can receive blood transfusions.||I donate blood every year.|
|Blood pressure||the pressure of blood in the circulatory system||First, we'll take your blood pressure to make sure it isn't too high. High blood pressure can put you at risk of a heart attack.|
|Brace||a medical device that protects and holds an injured body part in place||Wearing a knee brace will help your knee while you walk.|
|Broken||a bone that has split into two or more parts due to an injury||She broke her arm after falling from the tree.|
|Bruise or bruised||a discolored, sensitive spot on the skin after a blow or impact, causing injury to the tissue and blood vessels.||Ow! I hit my shin on the coffee table again! That will leave a bruise.|
|Bump or lump||a swelling or hard round spot on or under the skin||She went to see the doctor after finding a lump during a self-breast exam.|
|Caesarean section (C-Section)||an operation to remove a baby from its mother's uterus||The baby was too big so the doctor decided to deliver it through C-Section.|
|Cancer||a disease caused by uncontrolled reproduction of abnormal cells in the body||It's important to wear sunscreen to lower your risk of skin cancer.|
|CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)||a life-saving technique to manually provide air flow with hard and fast chest compressions after someone's breathing or heart has stopped||He took a CPR course before he became a babysitter.|
|Cast||a hard shell made of bandages and plaster, worn around a broken body part to keep it in place and promote healing||She'll need to wear a cast for six to eight weeks while her leg heals.|
|Chaplain||a priest or religious person who visits patients in a hospital||The chaplain came by to pray with us.|
|Chemotherapy||a type of treatment used to eliminate cancer.||This is my first round of chemotherapy.|
|Clinic||a department or smaller establishments for medical treatment||You should go to the walk-in clinic for your cough.|
|Concussion||temporary unconsciousness or confusion resulting from trauma to the head.||He suffered from a concussion after he fell, so he should stay awake while we monitor him.|
|Coroner||a person who determines the cause of death after a person dies||They called the coroner because they though the death was suspicious.|
|Critical Condition||a severe health state which requires immediate medical attention||My teacher was in critical condition after their car accident.|
|Crutches||devices to help a person with injured legs or feet walk||I had to use crutches after I sprained my ankle.|
|Cyst||a fluid-filled sac in the body tissue, sometimes infected||The doctor can remove the cyst safely.|
|Deaf||a person who can not hear||My mother is Deaf, so she requires an ASL interpreter for this appointment.|
|Deficiency||a lack of something necessary for one's health, such as vitamins||You have a Vitamin D deficiency, so you should get some sun or take supplements.|
|Dehydrated||someone who is not hydrated, who needs more water.||Bring water for your hike so you don't get dehydrated.|
|Dementia||a condition which results in the loss of memory or mental capacity||My uncle suffers from dementia, which is difficult for our family.|
|Diabetes||type of disease in which the body can't produce or respond to insulin||My sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was young.|
|Diagnosis||identifying a disease, condition or injury||We'll need a blood test to make a diagnosis.|
|Discomfort||unease or pain in a part of the body||I feel discomfort in my stomach after eating greasy food.|
|Disease||a harmful condition that creates symptoms or affects a part of the body||Chickenpox is a disease found in children.|
|Dislocated||a condition in which a body part is out of place||I did physical therapy after I dislocated my shoulder.|
|Drowsy||sleepiness or fatigue||This medication might cause drowsiness so you shouldn't operate heavy machinery.|
|Emergency room (ER)||The room or department in a hospital for patients requiring serious or immediate medical care||The nurse works in the ER. She's seen many grievous injuries.|
|External||outside the body or a body part||The external damage wasn't as bad as the internal damage.|
|False negative||a test result that wrongly shows a negative result||Her first COVID test results was a false negative. When she took a second test, it was positive.|
|Family history||common or inherited conditions or traits in the medical history of your family||Do you have a family history of high cholesterol?|
|Fatal||a condition that results in death||The blunt force trauma to his chest was fatal.|
|Fever||an abnormally high body temperature||Please call your health care provider if you have a fever over 103F (39.4C).|
|First responder||a person such as an EMT or fire fighter who arrives immediately to the scene of an accident or emergency||The first responders came quickly to help the victims.|
|Flu (influenza)||an infectious disease similar to a very bad cold||Remember to get your flu vaccine this year.|
|Fracture||a partial or complete crack or break in a bone.||She had a fracture in her left leg.|
|Germ||a microorganism that can cause disease||Hand sanitizer will kill 99% of germs.|
|Genetic (hereditary)||related to genes, something inherited or passed down from parents to offspring.||Cystic fibrosis is a fatal hereditary disease.|
|Growth||increase in size, or a mass of tissue somewhere in or on the body||The growth in his throat could be dangerous.|
|Heart attack||when the flow of oxygen rich blood in an artery becomes blocked, and the heart can't get enough oxygen||Heart attacks can be fatal, so it's important to know the early signs and call 911.|
|HIV||a virus that attacks the body's immune system, and can lead to AIDS if not treated||HIV attacks the white blood cells in your body.|
|Hives||a rash of red welts, sometimes with swelling, caused by an allergic reaction||I broke out in hives after I ate the shrimp.|
|Hospital||a medical center, usually with multiple departments||I work in the hospital as a nurse.|
|Illness||a disorder or disease affecting the body or mind||My grandmother's illness left her weak and unable to eat solid foods.|
|Immune system||the complex network in your body, including white blood cells, that fights infections and other diseases||Vitamin C can help strengthen your immune system so you don't get sick.|
|Immunization||vaccines or inoculations that can help protect your body from certain diseases||You'll need to provide an immunization record before you can enroll in classes.|
|Insurance (health or medical)||an agreement or arrangement with a company or government to provide financial compensation in the event of illness, disease, or death in return for a regular payment (usually monthly or yearly)||This procedure is free under your health insurance.|
|Insurance provider||the company that provides your health insurance||Who is your insurance provider?|
|Incision||a cut into body tissue||The incision was small.|
|Inconclusive||test results that do not give a clear indication one way or another.||The study was inconclusive, so some doctors still have doubts about the medication's effectiveness.|
|Infant||a baby that is three months old or younger||Infants need constant attention and care.|
|Infection||the invasion of germs in the body, resulting in harmful symptoms||Please keep your cut clean to prevent infection.|
|Injury||damage to the body||Her arm was injured and required surgery.|
|Intensive Care Unit (ICU)||the department of a medical center or hospital for patients who need immediate and consistent care||We're transferring her to the ICU.|
|Internal||under the skin, inside the body||The doctors will monitor her for any internal bleeding.|
|Itchy||discomfort and inflammation on the skin||Bug bites can result in itching.|
|IV (intravenous therapy)||a thing tube that transfers liquids and medications into a patient's body||He couldn't drink enough water on his own, so the doctors put in an IV so he wouldn't be so dehydrated.|
|Laboratory (lab)||a scientific or medical center that takes samples and examines them||Please send these blood samples to the lab.|
|Lab results||test results that come back fro ma laboratory and help the doctors make a diagnosis||The lab results have come back, and it's good news!|
|Life support||machines that help keep patients alive, usually by helping them breathe||She's in the ICU on life support because she can't breathe on her own.|
|Light-headed||feeling dizzy or faint||After all day in the hot sun, she felt light-headed and needed to sit down.|
|Malignant||a dangerous or aggressive growth, usually associated with cancer||The tumor was malignant, meaning it would spread to his lungs.|
|Medical school||the school or place you train to be a doctor||Medical school takes a lot time.|
|Newborn||a baby that is less than three months old||The neonatal department looks after newborns.|
|Numb||loss of feeling or sensation in a body part||The cold air made her fingers go numb.|
|Nurse||a licensed medical practitioner who cares for the sick, often in association with a surgeon or physician||She wants to be a nurse one day to help those who need it most.|
|Operating room (OR)||the room or department where major surgeries and operations take place||You cannot go into the OR without a mask and gloves.|
|Operation||a medical procedure that involves creating an incision to go inside a person's body to fix or remove a problem.||The operation took over eight hours.|
|Over-the-counter||medicine that does not require a prescription from a doctor||Minor pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, is over-the-counter.|
|Pain killer/pain reliever||medicine the relieves or eliminates pain or discomfort from an injury or illness||She she will need pain killers after the orthodontist takes her wisdom teeth out.|
|Pandemic||a widespread outbreak of a disease or virus over multiple continents, as classified by the WHO (World Health Organization)||The outbreak of COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 11.|
|Paralyzed||unable to move areas of the body||His legs are paralyzed, so he uses a wheelchair.|
|Patient||a person is seeking medical care, often staying in a hospital or medical facility||The patients are sleeping in their rooms.|
|Pharmacy/Drugstore||a store where people buy medication||Pharmacies sell bandages, too.|
|Pharmacist||a licensed professional who fills a doctor's prescription and offers advice about medication||The pharmacist explained the medication, including how often to take it.|
|Pills||medication that comes in the forms of capsules||Her medicine comes in a pill bottle, and she takes two pills a day.|
|Poison/poisonous||a dangerous substance||Call the Poison Control line if your child swallows something they shouldn't.|
|Prenatal||a state of time before a person gives birth||Take these prenatal vitamins so you aren't deficient in anything before giving birth.|
|Prescription (Rx)||a type and dosage of medication used to cure or treat an illness or symptoms. Ordered by doctor, and usually not available over-the-counter||Only the doctor can prescribe this medication.|
|Routine check-up||a standard procedure to check that the body is healthy||I'm just here for a routine check-up before I travel.|
|Scrubs||a uniform that medical practitioners wear||Put on your scrubs before you head to the OR.|
|Second opinion||advice or a diagnosis from a second medical practitioner about an illness or symptom||I went to another doctor for a second opinion.|
|Seizure||uncontrollable, sudden violent movements or unconsciousness||He was diagnosed with epilepsy after his seizure.|
|Sensitive||an area or spot on the body has heightened feeling or discomfort||The spot where I hit my head was a bit sensitive the next day|
|Shock||a medical condition where a patient experiences a fall in blood pressure and other symptoms, caused by blood loss, burns, or sudden emotional stress||She experienced shock after the accident.|
|Side effects||secondary symptoms caused by an illness, condition, or medication that can be undesirable||Common side effects of this medication include weight gain and headaches.|
|Sore||pain, discomfort or exhaustion in the muscles||I am so sore after that run yesterday.|
|Spasm||an uncontrollable twitch or movement in a muscle||His leg muscle was spasming after he worked it too much.|
|Specialist||a medical practitioner who specializes in a specific field or area of the body||I want to see a specialist about this issue.|
|Sprain||an injury to a ligament, resulting in pain and swelling but not dislocation||I sprained my ankle during the football game.|
|Stable condition||a state in which the patient is in consistent health and has good vital signs||He's in stable condition, so he'll be moved from the ICU to the regular wards.|
|Swelling/swollen||a growth or enlargement of an area of the body, caused by inflammation or trauma||After I twisted my ankle, it was swollen to twice its normal size. I put ice on it to reduce the swelling.|
|Symptoms||how a condition or illness manifests, the signs of a condition, usually uncomfortable or painful||Do you have any other symptoms besides a cough?|
|Temperature||the measurement of how hot something is, including your body in order to check for a fever.||I took his temperature last night.|
|Tender||an area of the body that is sensitive or feels painful||The bruise on my knee was tender.|
|Test results||the report that comes back from a lab after examination||We finally have your test results, so we can discuss them now.|
|Transplant||the transfer of an organ from one body to another||He's on the wait-list for a kidney transplant.|
|Ultrasound||a type of medical scan, usually a test a pregnant person undertakes to examine the fetus||Here are the pictures from my ultrasound!|
|Unconscious||a person who is not conscious, or who can not wake up or respond to their environment||He went unconscious after he lost so much blood.|
|Urine sample||a test of someone's urine to check for diseases or drugs||Please give your urine sample to the nurse so we can send it to the lab for testing.|
|Virus||an infectious microbe that requires a host to make copies of its cells||COVID-19 is a virus that spreads from one person to another.|
|Visiting hours||the time period in which a hospital lets you visit a patient||Our visiting hours are from 8am to 10pm.|
|Vomit||the act of ejecting contents from your stomach, or the matter that is ejected from your stomach||She vomited after she got food poisoning from that undercooked chicken.|
|Wheelchair||a device or chair with wheels that allows someone who is unable or has difficulty walking to move freely or be transported.||She's been using a wheelchair for almost a decade now.|
|Wound/wounded||an injured or hurt part of the body||He was wounded in battle but recovered quickly.|
|X-ray||a medical scan that examines the internal parts of a body, such as bones||We'll know if it's broken or not once we take an X-ray.|
Congratulations! If you study each of these words, you'll not only advance your English knowledge but also prepare yourself in case you ever need to use them.
Some of these words can be tricky to say, however. While many of these words have roots in Latin or Greek, most of these words will still follow typical English pronunciation rules (Jasmin breaks down how to pronounce English words from a-z in this guide!). You can practice your listening comprehension by going to Speechling's listening practices and choose the Health topic. You can also try repeating some of these medical words in this video using popular TV shows.
Quick English Medical Phrases to Practice
"We need an ambulance" or "Call emergency services!"
In an emergency, it's important to call first responders as fast as possible.
The number to call for emergency services depends on the country.
- In the US and Canada, it's 911.
- In the UK, it's 999 or 112.
- In Australia it is 000
- While in New Zealand, it's 111.
You don't need to memorize all these numbers--just focus on the country you might be going to. [Here's a list of all emergency numbers](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emergency_telephone_numbers sorted by country!
"I've been experiencing pain/discomfort in my X"
When describing a condition to your doctor, the phrase "I've been experiencing" is a great tool to add to your English medical toolkit. It shows that your pain has been something you've been feeling consistently.
- "I've been experiencing pain in my knee."
- "I have been experiencing discomfort in my right ear."
"I have a X allergy."
Just like we talked about in our guide on how to order in a restaurant, if you have an allergy to any food or medicine, it's important to tell people when it's relevant. Your doctor will likely ask you, as well, before they prescribe any medicine or give you a vaccination.
"I need medicine for a X"
When you head to the pharmacy, you can ask the pharmacist for a specific medication or for something to treat your symptoms. This phrase will work.
- "I need medication for a headache."
- "I need medicine for a cough."
Alternatively, you can ask: "What do you have for a sore throat?"
"I have a family history of X"
Many conditions are genetic--as we discussed above, something that you might inherit from your family and comes from your genes. This information is very helpful for doctors when making a diagnosis or prescribing medication. You should inform your doctor of your family history.
- "The women in my family have a history of breast cancer."
- "I have a family history of high blood pressure."
"I have a x-ache"
As we covered above, "ache" means pain in English. We often attach this suffix to parts of the body to express a constant pain.
- Headache -> pain in the head.
- Toothache -> pain in a tooth or teeth.
- Stomachache -> pain or discomfort in the stomach.
So on and so forth, you get it!
"It hurts occasionally/often/when I..."
Practice your adverbs. When describing pain or symptoms, your doctor will probably ask questions about how, when, and where you experience discomfort. Remember Jasmin's article on adverbs, and think about how to use them to describe a condition:
"I went to the hospital last week."
"It hurts when I move my knee slowly."
"I can hardly turn my neck."
Quick Quiz - Test Your English Medical Knowledge!
1. Your doctor will give you this for specific medication you can't find over the counter:
2. Your doctor might warn you that the effects of your medication might include drowsiness.
3. Before you enroll in school, they might ask you for your _ record to verify you have receive all the necessary vaccines.
4. If you don't need a prescription, then the medicine is available:
5. If you have a medical emergency, you should go to the:
Got all the answers? Look below to double check your answers, but I bet you got 'em all right. As I said before, I hope you only need to know most of these words for understanding your favorite TV medical drama. Stay safe, stay healthy, and see you next time!