English for Medical and Pharmaceutical Matters

doctors checking x-rays medical terminology

Imagine. You have a serious pain in the stomach. You are passing blood. You cannot find the correct medical terms to express your condition. It is one of the most worrying scenarios imaginable.

But when we learn English online for adults with English Live, we can study both the medical terminology that we need to explain our own worries and learn the medical terms we need to know if we are considering a career in the medical industry.

And that applies to everybody from doctors to nurses, from pharmacists to paramedics.  So not only are we more comfortable in getting our medical issues addressed, but if we choose to follow a medical career, our patients can be confident that we will understand what they are saying to us.

Of course, the range of medical terminology far, far exceeds the space we have in this blog, but we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the more common medical terms as apply to doctors and nurses, pharmacists and paramedics, as well as the names of some of the most common diseases.  Further, we will show you some of the more common medical terms you will hear if you go to see a doctor yourself.

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English Medical Vocabulary

Abnormal – This word will often be used to describe something that is wrong, or unusual. ‘Normal’ means ‘as expected’ and ‘abnormal’ is its antonym, or opposite. A typical sentence using the word might be: ‘We need to do some tests as your blood pressure is abnormal.’
Ache – This is a general term used to describe a level of discomfort. For example: ‘I have a stomach ache.’  An ache hurts, but it can be hard to describe the pain precisely.
Allergy or Allergic – Allergy is the noun, and allergic is the adjective. These are very important medical terms, and will regularly be used by medical personnel. An allergy is an adverse reaction to a food, medication or some kind of environmental substance. For example, doctors often ask: ‘Do you have an allergy to penicillin?’ or using the adjectival form: ‘Does penicillin give you an allergic reaction?’
Ambulance – The name of the van driven by paramedics that attends people in an emergency to offer immediate treatment and transport to a hospital. In Britain, an ambulance can be summoned by dialling the number 999 on a phone. An operator asks which emergency service is required (ambulance, fire, police and sometimes coastguard), then puts you through to an operative who is trained to help you cope with an emergency and send the relevant help to you.
Biopsy – This is a small operation whereby tissue is removed for testing.  For example, a doctor might say: ‘I am sending you for a biopsy on that mole.’
Dislocated – This medical term is applied to a bone becoming separated from its joint. ‘You have dislocated your shoulder when you fell from the wall.’
Family History – A medical term which means the background of a person’s family. For example: ‘Do you have a family history of high blood pressure?’
Fever – A high temperature.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – The centre in a hospital where the most serious emergencies are addressed.  A paramedic may take a patient straight to the ICU.
Light-headed – The condition where a person feels dizzy, as though they are about to lose consciousness.  ‘I felt light headed when I stood up suddenly.’
Numb – This medical term means the loss of feeling in a part of the body. For example: ‘My arm when numb after the car accident.’
Poison/Poisonous – A poison is a harmful substance which can be very dangerous if it enters the body.  ‘Don’t put that bleach bottle near your mouth – it is poisonous.’
Prescription – The note a doctor gives which allows you to receive medication. ‘Over the counter’ medicine is the kind you can get without a doctor.
Routine Check Up – A general health check that older, ill or pregnant people undergo.
Second Opinion – Where a serious condition has been diagnosed, a doctor may ask a colleague to confirm that diagnosis.  This is the medical terminology for that situation.
Therapy – Long term treatment for a condition. For example: ‘I am sending you for therapy on your injured hand.’
Vein – The thin internal tube that transports blood. A nurse will seek out a vein to take blood for a blood test.
Vomit – The proper name for stomach discharge from the mouth.  It is sometimes called ‘being sick’, ‘throwing up’ or ‘puking’.
X-ray – An internal photograph. ‘I am sending you for an x-ray to check whether or not your arm is broken.’

Most Common Diseases

Cancer – The general term for a tumour in the body. Cancer can be ‘benign’ (not harmful) or ‘malignant’ (harmful and potentially life threatening.)
Heart Attack – The medical term for a major heart problem with can be fatal.
Stroke – Loss of blood supply to the brain.  Treatment is needed quickly or the condition can kill.
Dementia, Senility, Alzheimer’s – These are all varieties of the same thing.  They are the names of the degenerative condition of the brain that affects some, mostly older, people.
Measles – A mostly childhood disease where the patient develops a fever and rash. Usually it passes with no lasting damage, but must be treated as rarely death does occur.
Chickenpox – Another childhood disease whereby itchy blisters develop on the body. The adult version is more serious, and is called ‘shingles’.
Flu – The debilitating and occasionally dangerous condition which hits in minor epidemics most years.  Symptoms include headache, fever and tiredness.
Norovirus – A regular and highly contagious stomach disorder.

Health and Medical Idioms

Infographic Health and Medical Idioms

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Phrases Used by Doctors and Other Medical Practitioners

Can I feel your (stomach)? – A request to physically check a part of your body.
Does it hurt if (I push there)?
– A question to see whether an examination of a particular part of the body causes pain.
What symptoms do you have?
– A question about the specific ways in which you feel unwell, or any physical or emotional signs that you have developed.
Can I make an appointment to see (a doctor/nurse)?
– The phrase used when you wish to see a medical person.
Do you have any medicine for (a toothache)?
The question to ask at a pharmacy for over the counter medicine.
What dosage do I take?
– How many of these tablets do I need, and how often should I consume them?
Does this medicine cause any side effects?
– A side effect is an unpleasant reaction that is caused by taking the medicine. These might include rashes, nausea (feeling like you need to vomit) and so forth. Sometimes, the pharmacist will tell you to stop taking medication if it causes side effects.

Here we have touched on just a small part of the medical terminology used in English. If you would like to know more medical terms, then visit our job specific English courses where you can find out more about working in medicine, or indeed how medical terminology is used in everyday life.

Do you want to know the difference between ‘sick’ and ‘ill’? Find out here!

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