Colloquial expressions for medical terms

Summary: Everyday English for medical jargon, to be used by patients, doctors, nurses and other people using or studying Medical English.

This list was mainly created for medical experts and students who are more familiar with technical terms than with idiomatic English, in order to help them understand what ordinary people are saying and communicate in simpler and less scary-sounding language. It will also be useful for people who know the everyday terms and want to know more technical-sounding expressions for the same things. The first list gives more idiomatic forms of medical terminology. The second list explains what patients mean when they use non-specialist terms in medical situations. 

The big list of colloquial expressions for medical terms

This list gives proper medical words and then more everyday terms, divided by a slash (/). To the left of the slash (/), italics means medical words which patients are likely to understand (even though they are actual medical terms). To the right of the slash, italics means particularly idiomatic forms such as slang and rude words that medical staff might hear but will probably want to avoid.

abdomen/ belly or tummy

abdominal muscles/ abs or six pack or stomach muscles

abdominal pain/ stomach cramps

abdominoplasty/ tummy tuck

abrasion/ graze or scratch or scrapes or skinned knees

acne vulgaris/ whitehead

acne/ pimples or spots or teenage spots or zits

ADHD/ hyper or won’t settle down

adverse effect/ side effect

alopecia/ going bald or going thin on top or hair loss

amnesia/ blackout or memory loss

amniotic fluid/ waters

amphetamines/ speed

anaemia/ iron deficiency

anal sphincter/ arse ring or sphincter

analgesic/ painkiller

ankle sprain/ twisted ankle

anorexia/ loss of appetite

appendectomy/ have your appendix out

arthritis/ stiff joints

asphyxiation/ suffocation 

avian influenza/ bird flu

axilla/ armpit

become infected/ catch something

bladder/ waterworks

bowel movement/ crap or number two or poo or poop or shit or turd

breast augmentation/ boob job

breast mass/ lump in your breast

breasts/ boobs or bosoms or chest

bruxism/ grinding your teeth

bulla/ blister

candida albicans/ thrush

carbohydrates/ carbs

caries/ rotten tooth

chemotherapy/ chemo

chronic pain/ persistent pain

cicatrix/ scar

clitoris/ clit

closed comedo/ whitehead

common cold/ sniffle

complex carbohydrates/ carbs

conception/ getting knocked up

condom/ Durex or rubber or (rubber) johnny or French letter

conjunctivitis/ pink eye

contusion/ bruise

cosmetic surgery/ plastic surgery

deciduous teeth/ baby teeth or milk teeth

defecate/ crap or have a dump or have a number two or have a poo or shit

delirium tremens/ the shakes

delirium/ feverishness

dementia/ confusion

dental caries/ rotten tooth

dental pain/ toothache

dental plaque/ plaque

dental restoration/ filling

dental scaling/ tooth scraping

dependant/ hooked (on something)

depressed/ feeling down or feeling blue

dermis/ skin

DES/ dry eyes

desquamation/ peeling skin

diarrhoea/ dodgy tummy or the runs or the shits or the trots

doctor/ doc or quack

dry vomiting/ dry heaving

dysmenorrhoea/ period pains

dyspepsia/ indigestion

dysphagia/ difficulty swallowing

dyspnoea/ breathlessness, difficulty breathing or out of breath/ dyspnoea

dysuria/ burning sensation when peeing or difficulty peeing or having to squeeze it out or pain when peeing

EBC pill/ morning after pill

embryo/ baby in your tummy

emergency birth control pill/ morning after pill

emesis/ barfing or can't keep food down or chucking up or hurling or puking or puking up or spewing or throwing up

epidermis/ skin

epistaxis/ nose bleed

erectile dysfunction/ can't get it up

erection/ boner or hard on or getting it up

eructation/ belch or burp

erythrocyte/ red blood cells

evacuate/ crap or have a number two or have a poo or shit

excise something/ have something out

excoriation/ scrape or scratch

facialplasty/ face lift

faeces/ crap or number two or poo or shit

febrile/ burning up or feverish

fecal incontinence/ doing a boo boo or having an accident or pooing your pants or shitting yourself or soiling yourself

flatulence/ blow(ing) off or fart(ing) or (passing) gas or (breaking or passing) wind

furuncle/ boil

gastroenteritis/ tummy bug

genital herpes/ herpes

genitals/ down there or privates or private parts

genitalia/ down there or privates or private parts

gingival atrophy/ receding gums

gingival recession/ receding gums

gingivitis/ gum disease

globus hystericus/ feel like you have a lump in your throat

globus pharyngeus/ feels like something is stuck in my throat

globus sensation/ feels like something is stuck in my throat

grand mal/ attack or episode or fit

haemoptysis/ coughing up blood or spitting up blood

haemorrhage/ heavy bleeding or gushing

haemorrhoids/ piles

halitosis/ bad breath

hallucinating/ seeing things

hand tremors/ shaking hands

HDL/ good cholesterol

head lice/ nits

heart/ ticker

heat stroke/ sunstroke

hematemesis/ vomiting up blood

herniated disk/ slipped disk

herpes simplex/ herpes

herpes zoster/ chickenpox

high-density lipoprotein/ good cholesterol

hirsutism/ hairiness

hyperpyrexia/ heat stroke

hypertension/ high blood pressure

hypotension/ low blood pressure

immunisation/ jabs

in vitro fertilisation/ test tube baby

indication/ side effect

infected/ catch something

infectious/ catching

influenza/ flu

inhaler/ puffer

injection/ jab

inoculations/ jabs

intestine/ guts

intoxicated/ drunk or high or tipsy or wasted

intrauterine (contraceptive) device/ coil

intravenous drip/ drip

IUCD or IUD/ coil

IV drip/ drip

IVF/ test tube baby

juvenile/ for kids

KCS/ dry eyes

keratoconjunctivitis sicca/ dry eyes

kyphosis/ hunchback or humpback or hump

larynx/ voice box

laxative/ something to loosen me up

LDL/ bad cholesterol

learning difficulties or learning disabilities/ not all there or simple or special

lethargy/ tiredness

leukocyte/ white blood cells

libido/ sex drive

limb length discrepancy or limb length inequality/ one leg longer than the other

liposuction/ lipo

lose consciousness/ faint or pass out or swoon

low-density lipoprotein/ bad cholesterol

lumbago/ lower back pain

magnesium hydroxide/ milk of magnesia

male infertility/ shooting blanks

malocclusion/ crooked teeth

mandible/ lower jaw

melanoma/ skin cancer

menstruation/ time of the month

menstrual cramps/ period pains

mental health issues/.crazy or nuts

mentally disabled/ not all there or simple or special

migraine/ throbbing head

miliaria/ heat rash or prickly heat

molar teeth/ back teeth

mouth to mouth resuscitation/ mouth to mouth

movement/ crap or number two or poo or shit

multiple personality disorder/ schizo

myalgia/ muscle pain

myopic/ short sighted

naris/ nostril

nasal congestion/ blocked up nose or bunged up nose or stuffed up nose

nasal haemorrhage/ nose bleed

nasal mucus/ snot

nausea/ feeling sick

nausea gravidarum/ morning sickness

navel/ belly button

neonatal/ new-born

nerve entrapment syndrome/ pinched nerve or trapped nerve

nitrous oxide/ laughing gas

non-prescription medicine/ over-the-counter drug or over-the-counter remedy

obese/ carrying extra weight or chubby or fat or overweight or podgy

obesity/ chubbiness or excess weight or fatness or podginess

oedema/ swelling

oesophageal obstruction/ something stuck in your throat

onychocryptosis/ ingrown toenail

open comedo/ blackhead

oral contraceptive/ the pill

oral herpes/ cold sore

OTC/ over-the-counter drug or over-the-counter remedy

ovum/ egg

palate/ top of the mouth

patella/ kneecap

pectoral muscles/ pecs

pellets/ rabbit poo

pelvic pain/ pain down there

pelvic region/ down there or lady parts or private parts or privates or unmentionables

penis/ cock or dick or John Thomas

periodontis/ gum disease

persistent vegetative state/ human vegetable or vegetable

perspiration/ sweat

petit mal/ (a bit of an) attack or episode or fit

pharmacist/ chemist

pharyngitis/ sore throat

pharynx/ (back of the) throat

photopsia/ seeing stars

physician/ doc or quack

pregnant/ bun in the oven or eating for two or expecting or in the family way or knocked up or up the duff

pressure ulcers/ bedsores

pruritus/ itchy

psychiatrist or psychologist/ head doctor or shrink

pubic hair/ pubes

pubic lice/ crabs

pyretic/ burning up or feverish

rabbit stool/ rabbit poo

radiotherapy/ zap something

RBC/ red blood cells

recover/ get better or get over something

reduced mobility/ stiff joints

regurgitation/ barfing or can't keep food down or chucking up or hurling or puking or puking up or spewing or throwing up

reproductive organs/ bits

respiration/ breathing

restless sleep/ tossing and turning

rheum/ sleep in your eyes

rheumatism/ stiff joints

rhinoplasty/ nose job

rhinorrhoea/ runny nose

rigidity/ stiffness

rubella/ German measles

rupture of membranes/ waters breaking

saliva/ gob or spit

sanitary pad/ panty liner

scapula/ shoulder blade

schizoid/ schizo

schizophrenic/ schizo

sclera/ whites of your eyes

scoliosis/ twisted spine

scrotum/ ball bag or ball sack or sack

seborrheic dermatitis/ dandruff

see a psychiatrist or psychologist/ have your head examined

semen/ come

senile lentigo/ liver spots

sexually transmitted disease/ catch something

SIDS/ cot death or crib death

solar lentigo/ freckles (from the sun)

somnambulism/ sleep walking

somniloquy/ talking in your sleep

spinal curvature/ curved spine

sporadic/ one-off

sternum/ breastbone

STI/ catch something

stool/ crap or number two or poo or shit

strain/ pulled muscle or torn muscle

sudden infant death syndrome/ cot death or crib death

suffering from hearing loss/ hard of hearing

suppository/ up the arse or up the rear end or up there

suppurate/ ooze

surgery/ have something done or have an operation

sutures/ stitches

tachycardia/ racing heart beat

tampon/ Tampax

testicles/ balls or bollocks or family jewels or gonads or nuts

thoracic back pain/ upper back pain

thoracic cage/ rib cage

thrombosis/ blood clot

tibia/ shin (bone)

tinea pedis/ athlete’s foot

tonsillectomy/ have your tonsils out

trachea/ windpipe

tussis/ cough or coughing

tympanic membrane/ eardrum

tympanum/ eardrum

ultrasonography/ ultrasound

umbilicus/ belly button

unguis incarnates/ ingrown toenail

unsteadiness/ unsteady on your feet

urinal/ the bottle

urinary incontinence/ having an accident or having a little accident or leaking or peeing yourself or pissing yourself

urinate/ have a leak or have a pee or have a piss or relieve yourself or spend a penny or wee

urine/ number one or pee or piss or wee

uterus/ womb

vaccinations/ jabs

vaginal thrush/ thrush

Valium/ mother’s little helper

varicella (zoster)/ chickenpox

varicosities/ varicose veins

vasectomy/ the snip

ventilator/ puffer

verruca/ wart

vertigo/ dizziness or feel like my head is turning around

vesicle/ blister

virus/ bug

volvulus/ twisted bowel

xeroderma/ dry skin

xerophthalmia/ dry eyes


The big list of everyday medical expressions with proper medical terms

This list gives colloquial terms and then more technical medical words, divided by a slash (/). Words to the left of the slash which are in italics are very informal and/ or rude words which medical staff might want to avoid repeating. Words on the right written in italics are medical terms which would probably be understood by patients. Please note that words which almost always take “the…” such as “the pill” are only listed in the T section.

abortion/ termination

abs/ abdominal muscles

anorexia/ anorexia nervosa

armpit/ axilla

arse ring/ anal sphincter

athlete’s foot/ tinea pedis

attack/ grand mal or petit mal

baby in your tummy/ embryo

baby teeth/ deciduous teeth

back of the throat/ pharynx

back teeth/ molar teeth

bad breath/ halitosis

bad cholesterol/ LDL or low-density lipoprotein

ball bag/ scrotum

ball sack/ scrotum

balls/ testicles

barfing/ emesis or regurgitation

bedsores/ pressure ulcers

belch/ eructation

belly button/ navel or umbilicus

belly/ abdomen

bird flu/ avian influenza

bits/ reproductive organs

blackhead/ open comedo

blackout/ amnesia

blister/ vesicle or bulla

blocked up nose/ nasal congestion

blood clot/ thrombosis

blow off/ flatulence

blue/ depressed

boil/ furuncle

bollocks/ testicles

boner/ erection

boobs/ breasts

boob job/ breast augmentation

breaking wind/ flatulence

breastbone/ sternum

breathing/ respiration

breathlessness, difficulty breathing or out of breath/ dyspnoea

bruise/ contusion

bug/ virus

bun in the oven/ pregnant

bunged up nose/ nasal congestion

burning sensation when peeing/ dysuria

burning up/ febrile or pyretic

burp/ eructation

can't get it up/ erectile dysfunction

can't keep food down/ emesis or regurgitation

carbs/ (complex) carbohydrates

catch something/ STI or sexually transmitted disease

catch something/ become infected

catching/ infectious

chemist/ pharmacist

chemo/ chemotherapy

chest/ breasts

chickenpox/ herpes zoster or varicella or varicella zoster

chubby/ obese

chucking up/ emesis or regurgitation

clit/ clitoris

cock/ penis

coil/ IUD or IUCD or intrauterine (contraceptive) device

cold sore/ oral herpes

come/ semen

confusion/ dementia

cot death/ sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS

cough/ tussis

coughing up blood/ haemoptysis

crabs/ pubic lice

crap/ bowel movement or faeces or movement or stool

crap/ defecate or evacuate

crazy/ suffering from mental health issues

crib death/ sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS

crooked teeth/ malocclusion

curved spine/ spinal curvature

dandruff/ seborrheic dermatitis

dick/ penis

difficulty breathing/ dyspnoea

difficulty peeing/ dysuria

difficulty swallowing/ dysphagia

dizziness/ vertigo

doc/ doctor or physician

dodgy tummy/ diarrhoea

doing a boo boo/ fecal incontinence

down/ depressed

down there/ pelvic region

drip/ IV drip or intravenous drip

drunk/ intoxicated

dry eyes/ DES or KCS or keratoconjunctivitis sicca or xerophthalmia

dry heaving/ dry vomiting

dry skin/ xeroderma

Durex/ condom

eardrum/ tympanic membrane or tympanum

eating for two/ pregnant

egg/ ovum

episode/ grand mal or petit mal

expecting/ pregnant

face lift/ facialplasty

faint/ lose consciousness

family jewels/ testicles

fart/ flatulence

fat/ obese

feel like my head is turning around/ vertigo

feel like you have a lump in your throat/ globus hystericus

feeling blue/ depressed

feeling down/ depressed

feeling sick/ nausea

feels like something is stuck in my throat/ globus pharyngeus or globus sensation

feverish/ febrile or pyretic

feverishness/ delirium

filling/ dental restoration

fit/ grand mal or petit mal

flu/ influenza

for kids/ juvenile

freckles (from the sun)/ solar lentigo

French letter/ condom

gas/ flatulence

German measles/ rubella

get better/ recover

get over something/ recover

getting it up/ erection

getting knocked up/ conception

gob/ saliva

going bald/ alopecia

going thin on top/ alopecia

gonads/ testicles

good cholesterol/ HDL or high-density lipoprotein

graze/ abrasion

grinding your teeth/ bruxism

gum disease/ gingivitis or periodontis

guts/ intestine

haemorrhage/ heavy bleeding or gushing

hair loss/ alopecia

hairiness/ hirsutism

hard of hearing/ suffering from hearing loss

hard on/ erection

have a dump/ defecate

have a number two/ defecate or evacuate

have a pee/ urinate

have a poo/ defecate or evacuate

have a wee/ urinate

have an accident or have a little accident/ (fecal or urinary) incontinence

have something done/ have an operation or have surgery

have something out/ excise something

have your appendix out/ appendectomy

have your head examined/ see a psychologist or psychiatrist

have your tonsils out/ tonsillectomy

having to squeeze it out/ dysuria

head doctor/ psychiatrist or psychologist

heart rate monitor/ electrocardiograph

heat rash/ miliaria

heat stroke/ hyperpyrexia

heavy bleeding/ haemorrhage

herpes/ genital herpes or herpes simplex

high blood pressure/ hypertension

high/ intoxicated

hooked on/ dependant

human vegetable/ persistent vegetative state

hunchback/ kyphosis

hurling/ emesis or regurgitation

hyper/ ADHD

in the family way/ pregnant

indigestion/ dyspepsia

ingrown toenail/ onychocryptosis or unguis incarnates

iron deficiency/ anaemia

itchy/ pruritus

jab/ injection

jabs/ inoculations or vaccinations or immunisation

John Thomas/ penis

johnny/ condom

kneecap/ patella

knocked up/ pregnant

kyphosis/ hunchback or humpback or hump

lady parts/ pelvic region

laughing gas/ nitrous oxide

lipo/ liposuction

liver spots/ senile lentigo

loss of appetite/ anorexia

low blood pressure/ hypotension

lower back pain/ lumbago

lower jaw/ mandible

lump in your breast/ breast mass

memory loss/ amnesia

milk of magnesia/ magnesium hydroxide

milk teeth/ deciduous teeth

morning after pill/ emergency birth control pill or EBC pill

morning sickness/ nausea gravidarum

mother’s little helper/ Valium

mouth to mouth/ mouth to mouth resuscitation

muscle pain/ myalgia

new-born/ neonatal

nits/ head lice

nose bleed/ epistaxis or nasal haemorrhage

nose job/ rhinoplasty

nostril/ naris

not all there/ mentally disabled or with learning difficulties or with learning disabilities

number one/ urine

number two/ bowel movement or faeces or movement or stool

nuts/ suffering from mental health issues

nuts/ testicles

obese/ carrying extra weight or chubby or fat or overweight or podgy

obesity/ chubbiness or excess weight or fatness or podginess

one leg longer than the other/ limb length inequality or limb length discrepancy

one-off/ sporadic

ooze/ suppurate

out of breath/ dyspnoea

over-the-counter drug or over-the-counter remedy/ non-prescription medicine or OTC

overweight/ obese

pain down there/ pelvic pain

pain when peeing/ dysuria

painkiller/ analgesic

panty liner/ sanitary pad

pass out/ lose consciousness

passing gas/ flatulence

passing wind/ flatulence

pecs/ pectoral muscles

pee/ urine

peeing yourself/ urinary incontinence

peeling skin/ desquamation

period pains/ dysmenorrhoea or menstrual cramps

persistent pain/ chronic pain

piles/ haemorrhoids

pimples/ acne

pinched nerve/ nerve entrapment syndrome

pink eye/ conjunctivitis

piss/ urine

plaque/ dental plaque

plastic surgery/ cosmetic surgery

podgy/ obese

poo/ bowel movement or faeces or movement or stool

pooing your pants/ fecal incontinence

poop/ bowel movement

prickly heat/ miliaria

private parts/ genitals or genitalia

privates/ genitals or genitalia

pubes/ pubic hair

puffer/ inhaler or ventilator

puking (up)/ emesis or regurgitation

pulled muscle or torn muscle/ strain

quack/ doctor or physician

rabbit poo/ rabbit stool or pellets

racing heart beat/ tachycardia

receding gums/ gingival recession or gingival atrophy

red blood cells/ RBC or erythrocyte

relieve yourself/ urinate

rib cage/ thoracic cage

rotten tooth/ caries or dental caries

rubber (johnny)/ condom

runny nose/ rhinorrhoea

sack/ scrotum

scar/ cicatrix

schizo/ schizoid, schizophrenic or suffering from multiple personality disorder

scrape or scratch/ abrasion or excoriation

seeing stars/ photopsia

seeing things/ hallucinating

sex drive/ libido

shaking hands/ hand tremors

shin (bone)/ tibia

shit/ bowel movement or faeces or movement or stool

shit/ defecate or evacuate

shitting yourself/ fecal incontinence

shooting blanks/ male infertility

short sighted/ myopic

shoulder blade/ scapula

shrink/ psychiatrist

side effect/ adverse effect or indication

simple/ mentally disabled or with learning difficulties or with learning disabilities

six pack/ abdominal muscles

skin/ dermis or epidermis

skin cancer/ melanoma

skinned knees/ abrasion

sleep in your eyes/ rheum

sleep walking/ somnambulism

slipped disk/ herniated disk

sniffle/ (minor) common cold

snot/ nasal mucus

soiling yourself/ fecal incontinence

something stuck in your throat/ oesophageal obstruction

something to loosen me up/ laxative

sore throat/ pharyngitis

special/ mentally disabled or with learning difficulties or with learning disabilities

speed/ amphetamines

spewing/ emesis or regurgitation

sphincter/ anal sphincter

spit/ saliva

spitting up blood/ haemoptysis

stiff joints/ joint with reduced mobility or arthritis or rheumatism

stiffness/ rigidity

stitches/ sutures

stomach cramps/ abdominal pain

stomach muscles/ abdominal muscles

stuffed up nose/ nasal congestion

suffocation/ asphyxiation 

sunstroke/ heat stroke

sweat/ perspiration

swelling/ oedema

swoon/ lose consciousness

talking in your sleep/ somniloquy

Tampax/ tampon

teenage spots/ acne

test tube baby/ IVF or in vitro fertilisation

the bottle/ urinal

the pill/ oral contraceptive

the runs/ diarrhoea

the shakes/ delirium tremens

the shits/ diarrhoea

the snip/ vasectomy

the trots/ diarrhoea

throat/ pharynx

throbbing head/ migraine

throwing up/ emesis or regurgitation

thrush/ candida albicans or vaginal thrush

ticker/ heart

time of the month/ menstruation

tipsy/ intoxicated

tiredness/ lethargy

tooth scraping/ dental scaling

toothache/ dental pain

top of the mouth/ palate

tossing and turning/ restless sleep

trapped nerve/ nerve entrapment syndrome

tummy/ abdomen

tummy bug/ gastroenteritis

tummy tuck/ abdominoplasty

turd/ bowel movement

tussis/ cough or coughing

twisted ankle/ ankle sprain

twisted bowel/ volvulus

twisted spine/ scoliosis

ultrasound/ ultrasonography

unmentionables/ pelvic region

unsteady on your feet/ unsteadiness

up the arse/ suppository

up the duff/ pregnant

up the rear end/ suppository

up there/ suppository

upper back pain/ thoracic back pain

urinary incontinence/ having an accident or having a little accident or leaking or peeing yourself or pissing yourself

varicose veins/ varicosities

voice box/ larynx

vomiting up blood/ hematemesis

wart/ verruca

wasted/ intoxicated

waters/ amniotic fluid

waters breaking/ rupture of membranes

waterworks/ bladder

wee/ urinate

wee/ urine

white blood cells/ leukocyte

whitehead/ acne vulgaris or closed comedo

whites of your eyes/ sclera

wind/ flatulence

windpipe/ trachea

womb/ uterus

won’t settle down/ ADHD

zap something/ radiotherapy

zits/ acne

Copyright © 2017

Written by Alex Case fro

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