ESL medicine vocabulary

Maybe you’re teaching someone who works in the medical profession or maybe your student is about to go on holiday and would like some vocabulary in case of an emergency. Either way, having some medical terms to teach students is always handy.

Check out our list of medical vocabulary for both patients and professionals.

At the end of the post you’ll find medical role plays and a picture task to practice this vocabulary in your classes.

PDF for your student

Once you have studied this language point, here is a PDF for your students containing all the vocabulary.

Patients: How to describe common medical problems

To have an abnormal growth – something that is not normal is growing in or on your body

To suffer from allergies / to be allergic to something: An adverse reaction to a food, medication or environmental substance. 

To have asthma – a respiratory condition, causing difficulty in breathing.

To have /get chicken pox – varicella.

To explain your family history – the medical background of a person’s family.

To have high blood pressure – when the pressure of the blood in the veins is higher than it should be (also known as ‘hypertension’).

To have high temperature/ a fever – to feel hotter than usual.

To have / get measles – an infectious disease causing fever and a red rash.

To feel nauseous / sick – to feel like you want to vomit.

To have a rash – a red irritation of the skin.

To have spots appeared on your skin – to have small raised bumps in the skin.  

To vomit / to be sick/ to throw up – these all mean ‘to vomit.’

Professionals: How to diagnose and treat common medical problems

To do an allergy test.

To do/run a biopsy for an abnormal growth – to test a person’s tissue.

To take someone’s blood pressure – to check their blood pressure with a machine.

To do a blood test – to take blood from a person.

To check someone’s breathing.

To do a check-up – this is a revision for your body.

To check someone’s heartbeat.

To take someone’s temperature.

To refer a patient to a specialist.

To run some tests – to take samples from a person and send them to a laboratory.

To do an x-ray – a radiography.

Patients: How to explain sensations

Here you can use the body part + ‘ache’ to describe any type of internal pain which is not extremely strong. For example:

I have:

  • backache
  • a headache
  • a stomach ache

If the pain is on the surface we use the term ‘sore’ + body part. For example:

I have:

  • a sore throat
  • a sore finger
  • a sore knee

For limbs such as arms and legs you would use the verb ‘to hurt’. This is because arm and leg pain are usually caused by broken bones or damaged muscles and so the pain is stronger. For example:

‘My wrist hurts. I think it’s broken.’

‘My ankle hurts. I think I’ve twisted it.’

Other ways to talk about sensations:

To feel numb/ to have numbness – this is when you can’t feel anything.

To have a tingling sensation – this is when you have an uncomfortable prickling sensation when you have a trapped nerve. Another way to describe this is ‘to have pins and needles.’

To be painful – If something is causing you a lot of pain then it is ‘painful.’ Another way to describe this is to say ‘I am in agony’ or ‘my [body part] is killing me.’

Professionals: How to diagnose sensations

To dislocate – to disturb the normal position in a bone or joint

To break a bone.

To fracture a bone -a less serious break in a bone

To pull a muscle – to strain a muscle

To sprain/ to twist an ankle – an injury to the ligaments of the leg or foot

To swell – when a body part becomes larger in size, as a result of an accumulation of fluid.

Remember ‘to swell’ is an irregular verb. It is: ‘to swell, swelled swollen,’ for example, ‘to have a swollen ankle.’


To bandage an arm/leg – to wrap material bandages around a limb.

To walk with crutches – sticks to help a person with an injured leg or foot walk.

To put an arm or leg in plaster – When a hard substance is wrapped around a patients limb to stop it moving.

To put an arm in a sling – a piece of material, tied around the shoulder to support an injured arm or hand.

Patients: How to explain disorientation

To feel dizzy, light-headed – to feel disorientated like you are going to lose consciousness.

To faint, to black out – to lose consciousness.

Professionals: Pharmacy vocabulary

Dosage – the amount of medicine a patient can take safely at one time

Drowsy – medicine which makes a patient feel sleepy. The opposite is ‘non-drowsy’. For example, ‘Is this medicine drowsy or non-drowsy?’

Eye drops – medicine taken through the eyes

Oral medicine – medicine taken through the mouth

Over-the-counter medicine – medicine that a patient can buy without a prescription.

Painkillers – common term for aspirin and ibuprofen which stop pain.

Prescription medicine – medicine that can only be prescribed by a doctor.

To cause side effects – a secondary, typically undesirable effect of a drug or medical treatment.

Topical medicine – medicine taken by rubbing it on the skin

Speaking Activities

Activity one: Picture task

The student is a healthcare professional and they must diagnose the illnesses and injuries in the picture. They must say what the problem is and proscribe a course of treatment.

Activity two: role plays

The tutor is a patient and the student the doctor. The tutor describes some symptoms for some common medical problems and the student must ask them questions, diagnose the patient and suggest a course of treatment.

Common symptoms and the suggested medical issue.
  1. Earache after swimming (swimmer’s ear).
  2. Terrible pain in the side of the abdomen, fever and nausea (appendicitis).
  3. Bad ankle pain and swelling after falling (twisted ankle).
  4. Sore throat, headache, aching muscles and a temperature (flu).
  5. Itchy red rash after touching a strange plant (an allergic reaction).

Final thoughts

We hope you find these medical terms useful. What vocabulary have we missed? Write your thoughts in the comments below. Happy tutoring!