Here’s some essential medical vocabulary when you need to talk about injury and illness. Plus, a section for going to the doctor and talking about your medical history.
Medical vocabulary for minor problems
Boil = infected swelling with liquid inside it: “You’ll need to go to the doctor to have that boil lanced.” (lance – puncture and clean)
Lump = swelling: “I have a strange lump on my arm. I wonder what caused it.”
Rash = allergic reaction which makes your skin go red: “When she used the soap her skin came out in a rash.”
Scab = dry skin that forms over a cut: “Don’t pick at your scab – you might make it bleed.”
Spot = red mark on the skin (much smaller than a boil): “When he was a teenager he had a lot of spots.”
Swelling = an irritation or infection that makes the skin rise: “After the wasp stung her, she had a swelling on her leg for days.”
The following words can be used as nouns and verbs:
Bruise = when the skin goes blue and yellow: “She fell down the stairs and bruised her arm.”
“He has a bruise just under his eye.”
Bump = when you hit yourself and get a slight swelling:
“Ow! I bumped my head on the desk!”
“It’s only a little bump – nothing serious.”
Cut = when something sharp breaks your skin and you bleed: “He cut himself badly on the bread knife.”
“Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured in the accident. There were only a few cuts and bruises.”
“She got a nasty cut on her hand while she was diving.”
Gash = deep cut: “He gashed his hand badly on a piece of broken glass.”
“That’s a nasty gash. You might need stitches.”
Graze = slight cut – not enough to bleed much: “When she was little, she was always grazing her knee.”
“I got a small graze on my hand when I fell onto some gravel.”
Itch = when a part of your body makes you want to scratch it: “My eyes are itching – this atmosphere is too smoky for me.”
“I’ve got a terrible itch where the mosquito bit me.”
Scratch = like a graze, but more painful: “The cat scratched me – it stings a little.”
“He was picking berries and got a couple of scratches from the thorns.”
Sprain = twist a part of your body: “She sprained her ankle when she slipped on the ice.”
“My ankle looks swollen, but it’s only a minor sprain.”
Going to the doctor
The first time you visit a new doctor, you should talk about your medical history – the illnesses you have had, any operations you have had and so on. In this section you’ll find some useful medical vocabulary to do this.
Your doctor might want to give you a check-up. A check-up will include monitoring your blood pressure, as high blood pressure is serious and can lead to life-threatening conditions. Your doctor will probably also take your pulse to check that your heart rate is normal.
A doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your breathing – particularly if you have a heart or chest infection, or a condition such as asthma.
Of course, you can also visit the doctor for a huge range of other reasons. Children need to have their injections and if you are going abroad on holiday, you might also need to have injections against infectious diseases. In winter, you can also get a flu vaccine so that you won’t get the flu.
If you need medication, a doctor will write you a prescription. You can get your prescription filled at a chemist.
For more serious medical conditions, you can get a referral to a clinic or a hospital. You might need blood tests done, an X-ray, or to see a specialist.
See our page How to talk about illness for more medical vocabulary and speaking phrases.
Medical Vocabulary Quiz
Level: Pre-intermediate and above
- ''Bump'' is both a verb and a noun and it means to hit a part of your body against something (by accident!) You can bump your head or get a bump on your head, and this means you'll have a slight swelling on your head.
- ''Spots'' are small red swellings on your skin. A more severe type of spots is ''acne'' - especially common in teenagers.
- A rash is a red (often itchy) skin irritation. You often get it if your skin has a reaction against something or if you have an illness.
- A scab is the hard skin that forms over a cut.
- ''Bruise'' can be both a noun and a verb. You get a bruise when you damage your skin (if something comes into contact with force) and the skin changes colour.
- ''Cut'' is both a noun and a verb. If you cut yourself you see blood, but if you graze yourself you don't really break the skin.
- You ''get an infection'' and ''catch an illness''.
- An injection refers to the procedure of using a syringe and needle. A vaccine is the prevention for a disease or infection, such as a ''flu vaccine''.
- A prescription is the note that the doctor gives you to obtain medication from a chemist or pharmacy.
- Blood tests analyse your blood to find out if there's something wrong.