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Patient English: useful expressions for your visit to a doctor
English and communications

Patient English: useful expressions for your visit to a doctor 

Hopefully when you come to study English in the UK, you won’t need to visit the doctor. However, if you do get ill, what do you say to the doctor? And what might the doctor say to you? Here is a list of some common expressions:

When you have a cold

The condition

  • I think I’ve caught a cold
  • I think I’m coming down with something/a cold = I am at the start of a cold
  • I’m feeling a bit under the weather = I am not feeling very well
  • I have a head cold = I have a cold which is not really affecting my lungs, just my head and nose

The symptoms

  • I have a headache
  • I have a splitting headache = when the pain is very bad or is intensely focused on the side or front of your head
  • I have a very sore throat = when your throat hurts
  • It hurts to swallow
  • I’m very hoarse = when you begin to lose your voice
  • I have a blocked nose = when you can’t breathe through your nose
  • I have a runny nose = when your nose produces lots of ‘water’
  • I keep sneezing

Normally, you won’t need to go to the doctor, but you might need over-the-counter remedies or treatments from the chemist’s (pharmacy). For example, paracetamol for headaches, throat sweets for sore throats and probably aloe vera tissues for runny noses.

When you recover, you might say ‘I’ve got over my cold’ or ‘I’m getting better’.

When you have a cough

The symptoms

  • I have a dry cough = there is no mucus in the throat
  • I have a tickly cough = when the inside of your throat feels uncomfortably itchy and you want to cough all the time
  • I have a chesty cough = when you cough up mucus or phlegm

Some people find relief from over-the-counter cough remedies, such as cough sweets, chest rubs, and pain killers. If a bacterial infection is causing the cough, you may need antibiotics and you will need to go to a doctor for a prescription.

When you have the flu (influenza)

The symptoms

The symptoms usually involve some of the symptoms of a cold, but it is normally accompanied by a fever or high temperature, possibly dizziness and aches and pains all over your body.

For a temperature: 

  • I’m cold and shivery = when you shake with cold
  • I think I’m running a temperature
  • I’m burning up!

For dizziness:  

  • I’m having dizzy moments
  • I feel light-headed

For pains:  

  • My back is aching
  • My bones hurt

When you have aches and pains such as a stomach ache

The symptoms

  • a dull ache = a constant pain which is not too bad
  • a constant pain = a pain that does not go away
  • a sharp pain = an acute pain that may come and go
  • a shooting/stabbing pain = a pain that often happens when you make a movement and travels from one part of a limb or the body to another
  • a throbbing pain = a pain that pulses or feels like it has its own heartbeat

What might the doctor say to you?

  • So, what can I do for you?
  • So, how can I help?
  • How long have you been experiencing…?
  • When did your … first start?
  • I’d like to examine your … = to look at
  • We may need to run a few tests = do some tests
  • Could you take a nice deep breath = breathe all the way in and then out
  • Could you please take off your…?
  • Does it hurt when I touch … = cause pain
  • I’m going to prescribe some painkillers = give you a note for some painkillers which you cannot buy without the doctors’ permission
  • This should ease the pain = help reduce the pain

You could ask

  • Does the medication have any side effects? = symptoms caused by the medicine
  • How long will it take to get better?
  • How long do you think it will be until the problem goes away?
  • When will you have the test results?

Now that you know these expressions, we hope you never have to use them – wishing you all the best of health!


Pharmacy –  a shop where medicinal drugs are prepared or sold

Over-the-counter – (of medicinal drugs) bought in a shop without first visiting a doctor; with no need for a prescription

Paracetamol – a medicinal drug used to relieve and reduce fever, usually taken in tablet form

Throat sweets – small tablet intended to be dissolved slowly in the mouth to temporarily stop coughs, lubricate, and soothe a throat (usually due to a sore throat)

Cough sweets – a medicated lozenge sucked to relieve a cough

Chest rub – a gel intended to assist with minor medical conditions that temporarily impair breathing, including the common cold. It is applied to the chest, often immediately before sleeping.

Pain killer – a medicine for relieving pain

Antibiotics – a medicine (such as penicillin) that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms

Prescription – an instruction written by a doctor that authorises a patient to be issued with a medicine

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