Medical Vocabulary: How To Talk About Conditions And Illnesses

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process14 min
Created: Feb 15, 2023Last updated: Jan 24, 2024
Medical Vocabulary

In English-speaking countries, they say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. And we couldn't agree more that balanced nutrition and sports help boost your general wellness and keep your body healthy for much longer. However, it doesn't mean you should forget about expanding your medical vocabulary in English. As an adult English learner, you must be responsible, which means keeping your health in order and learning not only words from your favorite TV shows but also basic medical terms. 

Orienting in the healthcare system is not a piece of cake alone, not to mention doing it in English. That is why we decided to teach you some medical words and their meaning. They will help you to deal with your health in vital real-life situations and keep up with the specialized terminology of medical tv shows. 

Medical Vocabulary: What Doctors Are There And What Do They Treat

It's safe to say that medical TV shows gave English learners some understanding of what types of doctors exist. However, we bet you won't be able to name all the leading specialty doctors in English. So, let's give a general overview of medical professionals and add to your basic medical vocabulary in English. 

Medical professionals can be divided into three parties by their degrees. First are nurses. They must get an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing to assist doctors. Then go paramedics who work within Ambulance Services and provide emergency care. They are required to take paramedic science courses at university. Finally, the highest role in medicine belongs to doctors. They must earn a bachelor's degree and finish medical school to obtain a medical license. 

Depending on the specialty area, earned skills, and level of training, doctors can work in primary care or specialty care. Primary care doctors are the professionals who do regular checkups, treat minor illnesses, and refer patients to specialty doctor's appointments. 

In primary care, there are for types of doctors (physicians):

  • Family doctors

They usually work in public or private hospitals or medical centers attached to specific town areas. Traditionally, such doctors have a certain number of patients/ families to consult if necessary. People always know who their family doctor is, so when making an appointment, they schedule a meeting with the same doctor every time. Family physicians treat people of all ages but specialize in general medicine. 

  • Internal medicine physicians

Internal medicine physicians have the same knowledge, skills, and qualifications as family doctors. Plus, they have training not only in general medicine but also in subspecialties. However, they mainly treat adults. 

  • Pediatricians

Pediatricians work with kids. They treat children from the moment they are born till their teenage years. During the first year of life, the baby should be seen by a pediatrician more often. Then they switch to regular 6-12 months appointments for preventing diseases, doing vaccines, and checkups for daycare and school. 

  • Geriatric doctors

Geriatricians take care of the health of older adults. They have additional training in preventive care for older adults and treating diseases and conditions that affect older people. Geriatric doctors work towards maintaining the best quality of life for the elderly. 

While primary care doctors treat some minor illnesses, specialty doctors treat complex health problems according to the chosen area of medicine. When a family doctor can't help, they usually advise you to go to one of the specialty doctors who have specific training in what you need to fix. 

There are the following types of specialty doctors:

  • Anesthesiologists make sure that people don't feel pain during invasive medical procedures by putting them to sleep or numbing a particular area with medications or injections. Also, they monitor if a person's vital signs are stable during surgeries;
  • Allergists take care of the human immune system and help deal with allergic reactions;
  • Cardiologists focus on heart and blood vessel functioning. Such doctors are physicians who can run tests and prescribe medications but are not trained to perform surgeries. In some cases, they can do minimally invasive procedures;
  • Dermatologists treat diseases and conditions of the skin, nails, and hair. Also, they offer different types of aesthetic procedures that involve breaking the skin barrier, such as Botox injections, lip fillers, and chemical peels;
  • Endocrinologists take care of disorders and conditions which affect various hormonal glands, such as the thyroid;
  • Gastroenterologists specialize in treating the digestive system, including the stomach, liver, small intestine, colon, and gallbladder;
  • Infectious disease doctors work with patients who have contagious diseases such as COVID-19 or mononucleosis;
  • Neurologists treat conditions of the nerves, spine, and brain;
  • Nephrologists focus on the proper functioning of kidneys and treat conditions that hurt them;
  • Obstetricians/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) specialize in female reproductive health, pregnancy, labor, and delivery;
  • Oncologists help people to fight cancer and cancer-related health problems;
  • Ophthalmologists take care of the eyes' health. They treat different eye infections and complex conditions. Plus, after additional training eye, doctors can perform surgery to improve vision;
  • Otolaryngologists (ENT) specialize in conditions and diseases that affect the ear, nose, and throat;
  • Psychiatrists work with people's mental health. Please don't confuse them with psychologists who don't have a medical degree and a license to practice medicine. Psychiatrists treat severe mental health conditions and can prescribe medications;
  • Pulmonologists are responsible for treating conditions that affect breathing organs, including the lungs and heart;
  • Radiologists help different doctors in diagnosing medical conditions and illnesses using medical imaging tests and interpreting their results;
  • Rheumatologists diagnose and treat autoimmune conditions that affect the bones, joints, and muscles;
  • Surgeons perform surgical procedures to treat people. According to the American Board of Surgery (ABS), there are different types of surgeons depending on their area of expertise – general, cardiac, orthopedic, plastic, neuro, pediatric, etc;
  • Urologists take care of the urinary tract and male reproductive health.

Medical Words List: The Most Common Symptoms

The very first thing any doctor will ask you during your appointment is your complaints or symptoms that you are experiencing. So, you must know how to describe your problem or condition in English using basic medical terms. The right words will help a doctor to understand what is going on with your body and prescribe the correct treatment and medications. So, let's take a quick overview of the medical vocabulary that might come in handy in describing your well-being. 


That's one of the most common complaints in the doctor's office. Pain is the unpleasant feeling caused by injury, illness, or physical damage to the body. 

Example: When I broke my leg, the pain was so bad that I had to get sedated. 


Ache is a type of pain characterized by persistent or prolonged unpleasant feelings in any part of the body.

Example: This weather is killing me! My headache gets worse and worse every minute!

Breathing difficulty

When you feel like you lack air, can't take a breath, or your chest is very tight, you are experiencing breathing difficulties. They can occur in many cases. The most spread ones are severe allergy reactions and intercostal neuralgia that can remind of a heart attack because of pain in the chest area. 

Example: The waitress messed up with the order and forgot to mention the client's peanut allergy. He got an allergic reaction along with breathing difficulties. 


A cough is a reflex action caused by irritants such as dust, smoke, or mucus that helps to clear the airways. It might be a symptom of many minor and severe illnesses. So, it's always a good idea to see a doctor to examine your breathing organs. 

Example: Jenny got such a bad cough that I thought she would spit out her lungs. 


Diarrhea is a highly uncomfortable symptom to pronounce out loud. It stays for loose, watery, and repeated bowel movements. That is why people usually refer to it as a bad stomach, food poisoning, or stomach infection. By such terms, everyone will understand what is going on with your body without unnecessary details. However, doctors always use the term «diarrhea» to describe your well-being. 

Example: The patient is experiencing diarrhea, exhaustion, and stomach ache. 


This medical term defines the state or feeling of losing consciousness. During the appointment, a doctor can ask if you have ever experienced faintness to understand better your health situation. 

Example: Faintness is a usual thing among tourists during the summertime in Italy. 


When you have an overall feeling of extreme tiredness and lack of energy, that is fatigue. It occurs as a symptom during any illness, including fever and inability to eat or breathe correctly. 

Example: COVID-19 made me so weak I had been suffering from fatigue for over two weeks. 


Fever is another r example of the most common medical words that will help you to describe your state. It means an abnormally high body temperature. For reference, the normal body temperature is 36,6 C.  

Example: The fever was minor, but mom still let him stay home. 

Irregular periods

Many women think that irregular periods are an illness by themselves. However, it's just one of the symptoms of many conditions related to women's reproductive system. Therefore, there is no need to panic when the length of your menstrual cycle changes. However, you should track your periods every month and consult with your OB about any discomfort. The average menstrual cycle length is 28 days, but the 24-34 days cycle is within the normal range. 

Example: Teenage girls can experience irregular periods up to one year after it started. 


Nausea is a feeling of sickness with an uncontrolled urge to vomit. It can appear if your stomach needs to clear itself to eliminate irritating substances. 

Example: Pregnant women can experience nausea during the first trimester. 


A rah can be described as a red area, inflammation, or texture change on the skin. Because of the rash, the skin may be dry, itchy, red, and hypersensitive. 

Example: Manual confessed that he had an unknown rash the last time he saw Megan. 

Sore throat

The pain in the throat is caused by inflammation because a cold or other virus is called a sore throat. It's a common symptom of many conditions and illnesses. Fun fact, Americans treat a minor sore throat by eating ice cream. 

Example: Drinking so many cocktails with ice cubes was a bad idea, and now I have a sore throat. 


Vomiting is another example of a medical term that people don't really like to say out loud. Instead, they would rather use expressions like "being sick" or "throwing up." The word «vomiting» means an uncontrollable reflex of clearing the stomach through the mouth.

Example: Hangover and vomiting always go together if you hang out with Jeff. 


Basic Medical Terms To Know When In The Hospital

Sometimes it may seem that doctors and nurses speak a totally different language that barely resembles English. So, if it happens that you get to the hospital abroad and have no other option but to speak English, you need to be able to understand some basic medical terms. Our goal here is not to prepare you for any medical exam. Instead, we want to make sure that you can handle the conversation with medical professionals and understand the medical words that they use for your own sake. 

Medical history

Except for your current complaints, doctors usually ask about your medical history. Medical history, or anamnesis, is a record of information about someone's health containing data about chronic conditions, past medical problems, and treatments. It helps a doctor to see a complete picture of your current state. 

In-patient or out-patient 

Depending on your health issue, a doctor can ask you to stay in the hospital for a day or more to get proper treatment. In such a case, you'll become an in-patient. If they decide that the hospitalization isn't necessary and you can receive treatment at home, you'll become an out-patient. Any patient who comes to the doctor's office for a regular checkup is an out-patient. 


If a doctor says the word «fracture,» they mean a break or crack in someone's bone. So, don't be shocked to hear this medical term instead of the more common «broken bone.»


To check if a bone is cracked or broken, a doctor will need to take an X-ray, a picture of the bone made with a special machine. X-ray doesn't hurt because there is no close contact with the body.  


If the bone turns out to be broken, you will need to get a cast, a hard type of bandage. It fixes parts of bone, supports it, and helps the fracture to heal. 


When you hear someone needs stitches, it means they have a cut that must be sewn back together. For that, doctors give stitches with a needle and special string.  


A syringe is another name for a medical needle. However, the term is used only for needles meant for drawing blood or injections. 


To treat most conditions and illnesses, doctors prescribe their medications. Such a direction for the medicine written by a doctor is called a prescription.

How To Learn Medical Words And Their Meaning With Promova

Life is pretty unpredictable, so you never know what English words might come in handy the next minute. That is why it's essential to improve all English skills equally and keep updating your English glossary with words and phrases from different topics. 

If you think you don't need a lot of English in your life, let us prove you're wrong. For instance, your main hobby is traveling, so you focus on vocabulary for navigating in the airport, around the city, in hotels, car rentals, restaurants, etc. And you seem to be okay with the level of knowledge you have. However, limiting your English proficiency to specific subjects can lead to misunderstanding in vital real-life situations that, for example, are related to health. 

Luckily, you can make up for learning English medical vocabulary with the Promova learning language platform. Promova is a one-stop tool for learning English that is fun and effective. We offer different learning approaches to help you reach English fluency in no time. Promova combined all known humanity ways of mastering English – the mobile app, tutoring programs, Conversation Club, educational blog, and social media. So be sure that we can help you learn medical words and their meaning and prepare you to communicate with healthcare professionals. 

The Promova app includes different bite-sized lessons about health and medicine. For example, we gathered the most useful vocabulary for when you get sick, must go to the hospital, and need to pick up your prescribed medications at the drugstore and turn them into cute and memorable flashcards. The Promova app breaks the lexicon into levels and uses the space-repetition method to help you remember the words and phrases. 

Also, you can choose popular medical terms as a topic for your tutoring experience with Promova. We offer group and individual classes with certified English teachers. They are always ready to teach you the best way for you. So they can adapt to your learning needs and preferable topics quickly. In addition, the Promova tutors can prepare an individual lesson dedicated to English medical words if you ask for it. 

Moreover, the Promova free Conversation Club might plan a medicine-related meeting for you to practice basic medical words and escape common mistakes in English speaking. So keep your eye on our schedule and sign up in advance since we work in small groups. And don't forget to stay posted with the latest content on our official social media accounts and blog! We keep your English up-to-date providing you with language learning through trends! The recent proof is our article 12 Medical terms To remember From Grey's Anatomy. 


The ability to speak English if it's not your first language might be affected by stress. And speaking in English about your health issues is definitely a stressful situation. Many people get lost when they get sick and have to call for an ambulance or go to the hospital to get treatment because they don't know how to explain what they feel and can't understand what doctors say in English. In this article, we provided you with all vital medical English vocabulary so you could get medical help abroad. After reading this post, you should be able to choose the right doctor for your concerns, explain your symptoms, navigate the hospital, understand the most common diagnoses, and get the gist of the prescribed treatment. In health-related cases, English can literally become  a life vest for you. So, keep mastering the language proficiency and stay healthy!


Is medical terminology in English hard to remember?

Knowing medical terminology is a part of the basic qualifications and requirements for any professional willing to start their career in healthcare. However, memorizing a significant amount of words with Greek and Latin roots in English might be overwhelming not only for English learners but also for native English speakers. That is why medical students usually use tricks to memorize big chunks of medical words and their definitions. For instance, the most common ways to learn medical terms are by creating acronyms, playing bingo, visualizing, and using flashcards. Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of people have a natural gift for memorizing words quickly. Therefore, most medical professionals must work hard to get on the right foot with medical terminology. 

What is the longest medical term in English?

According to the Britannica Dictionary, the longest medical term and the longest word in the English language dictionary, in general, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It means a lung disease caused by inhalation of very fine silicate or quartz dust. An average native English speaker would not know this word because it is considered a part of specialized vocabulary. Only medical doctors and scientists know the term and operate with it. Again, it's not common knowledge, so don't force yourself to memorize the longest word in the English language dictionary. 

What do medical terms have in common?

In many words, medical terms sound alike because of their Greek and Latin roots. The way medical words are composed is generally similar. We can say that medical terminology was built according to a specific structure. For instance, every medical term consists of at least one root (Greek or Latin), a prefix, and a suffix. At the same time, there are many cases when terms have more than 2 or 3 roots referring to different body parts, symptoms, and causative agents of diseases. 

What is the word that takes 3 hours to pronounce?

It might be difficult to believe, but there is an English word that takes 3 hours to pronounce it. Of course, it is a specialized technical term. Scientists use it in chemistry for the chemical composition of titin, the largest known protein responsible for maintaining the passive elasticity of the muscles. The word has 189,819 letters, so it takes hours to read it. And the reason why the term consists of so many letters is that titin is formed by 244 individual protein domains. If you want to check what the term looks like, click here. But we will give a quick preview anyway - "methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl...isoleucine."


PromovaJan 18th, 2024
Medical professionals are categorized into three groups based on their degrees: nurses (associate's or bachelor's degree), paramedics (paramedic science courses at university), and doctors (bachelor's degree and completion of medical school for a medical license).
Leon 13Jan 18th, 2024
Hello! How are medical professionals categorized based on their degrees?
PromovaJul 25th, 2023
Thank you for your question! English learners can engage in various activities to reinforce medical vocabulary, such as reading medical articles, watching health-related documentaries, or role-playing medical scenarios. Additionally, creating flashcards or using vocabulary apps can help learners review and memorize medical terms effectively.
RoryJul 25th, 2023
How can English learners practice and reinforce medical vocabulary to build confidence in discussing health-related topics?