My leg hurts: Talking about illness (1)

by Liz Walter
If you are ill, it is important to be able to describe what is wrong with you. This two-part post looks at some vocabulary to use at the doctor’s. This first one offers some basic, general words for describing medical problems.

Firstly, a note about a UK/US difference: the word ill is used more frequently in British English, while sick is more common in US English. If a British person says they were sick, they usually mean that they vomited.

Symptoms are the things that show you have an illness. For example, common symptoms of a cold include sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, a runny nose or a stuffed-up nose / blocked nose (UK).

We often use the verbs feel and have to describe our symptoms:

I feel tired all the time.

I have a headache.

Useful adjectives to go with ‘feel’ are dizzy (as though the room is turning round), faint (as though you might fall over), sick (UK) or queasy / nauseous (as though you might vomit).

We also often use the slightly informal phrase I’m having trouble, followed by an –ing verb or with:

I’m having trouble sleeping.

I’m having trouble with my knees.

It can sometimes be necessary to describe pain to a doctor. The most common ways to do this are:

My leg/finger, etc. hurts.

I have a pain in my foot/ear, etc.

A dull pain or ache is unpleasant but not severe, and is usually continuous (doesn’t stop). A sharp or stabbing pain is usually more painful and may be intermittent (starting and stopping).

A part of the body that hurts when you touch it is sore or tender, while if you can’t feel it at all, it is numb. If part of your body is bigger than normal, it is swollen. Small, red marks on the skin are called a rash, and if you feel you want to scratch them, they are itchy.

If blood is coming from part of your body, you say that it is bleeding. If you fell over because you were dizzy, you fainted and if you remained in a condition where you could not see or think, you were unconscious.

To talk about how an illness started, you could say that it came on gradually or came on suddenly. You may also want to explain what makes your symptoms worse or better:

It’s not as bad when I lie down.

Standing for long periods makes it worse.

Painkillers help it a bit.

Look out for my next post which presents some slightly more advanced vocabulary to talk about specific types of illness.


16 thoughts on “My leg hurts: Talking about illness (1)

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  2. Solomon Tesfamariam

    how’s going every one?
    wow That’s Awesome explanation and I really learned a lot of new words from you guys.
    Actually, all I can say is keep it up the best thing the way you’ve been teaching us regularly.

    I will see you soon 🇬🇧👍📚🌍

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  4. abhishek panchal

    How do we define a back pain when it it strikes suddenly while lifting some heavy article? A sharp acute pain.

    1. Liz Walter

      Perhaps ‘a sudden, sharp pain’. We can say acute, but that’s a slightly more technical word – doctors say that problems are ‘acute’ (occurring suddenly for a short time) or ‘chronic’ (continuing for a long time)

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