Learn English | A new lesson every week
Book your course now

How to talk about health problems

Average: 3.3 (155 votes)

In life one of the most important things you can do is to look after your health. When we have a health problem we can go and see a doctor. Here we take a look at the English you need to discuss bad health.

Making an appointment

When you are feeling unwell, you need to see a doctor. Unfortunately, doctors are busy people so you have to make an appointment. This involves calling (or visiting) the doctor's clinic and making an appointment with the receptionist. When you make an appointment you arrange a date and a time when you can see the doctor.

'Good morning. I'd like to make an appointment to see the doctor today.'
'The doctor is busy this morning, but he is free this afternoon. Is 2 o'clock OK?'


When you see the doctor he (or she) might ask you 'What's wrong?' or 'What's the problem?'  A more specialised question is 'What are your symptoms?' Symptoms are any feelings of illness or discomfort which are caused by a health problem. E.g. If you had the flu (influenza) your symptoms would be a fever, a runny nose and I have been coughing.

The doctor might also ask 'When did the symptoms start?'


After telling the doctor your symptoms he will tell you the name of your problem. A diagnosis is when a doctor tells you the medical name of your problem.
For example, you tell your doctor your symptoms: 'I have a fever, a runny nose and I have been sneezing.' Your doctor says: 'My diagnosis is that you have the flu.'

Explaining your problem

Look at these two forms we can use to talk about our health problems:

'I have been coughing a lot these days / recently / for the last few days / since yesterday.' (PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS)

'I have a cough.' (PRESENT SIMPLE)

Both of these are used to describe our health problems. The present perfect continuous is used to show that something started in the past and is still happening now. We use 'I have been + -ing verb.' Other examples of this form include:

'I have been sneezing.'
'My head has been hurting.'
'I have been having headaches.'
'I have been feeling tired.'
'I haven't been sleeping well.'

The present simple is used to focus on a situation at the present. It is more common to use the present simple than the present continuous when we see a doctor: 'My head hurts' is more common than 'My head is hurting'.

We also use:

I have + noun

'I have a bad back'
'I have a sore throat.'
'I have a fever.'

I feel + adjective

'I feel dizzy.'
'I feel under the weather.'
'I feel rundown.'

Types of illness


(adjective Allergic) To have a bad reaction to animals, dust, foods or plants. The symptoms are red eyes, runny nose and sneezing.


(verb to Cough) Pronounced 'coff'. To force air out of the lungs making a loud and uncomfortable noise:
'Smoking makes me cough.'


(adjective Dizzy). To have the feeling that everything around you is spinning.
'I felt dizzy after standing up too quickly when I was in the bath.'

Fever / Temperature

A rise in body temperature. To feel hot.

The Flu

(also called Influenza) A very strong cold caused by a virus. Symptoms include: fever, headache, runny nose and sneezing.

 Hay Fever

An allergy to plants and the pollen from flowers. The symptoms are red eyes, a runny nose and sneezing.


Not being able to sleep at night.


Uncomfortable, itchy, red spots on the skin. A skin condition.
'She got a rash on her hand after touching a strange plant.'

Rundown / Under the Weather

(idioms) Both of these mean a general feeling of sickness. Rundown usually comes from living an unhealthy lifestyle. Under the weather means to not feel your usual, healthy self.

Runny Nose

Mucus coming from the nose. The need to blow your nose a lot.


(verb to Sneeze) An uncontrollable movement of air from the nose and mouth.
'The strong smell of flowers makes me sneeze.'


Red and painful skin that comes from being in the sun too long.

Something ache / sore something / bad something

These three forms are usually used to talk about general problems. These are the common collocations:

+ ache

muscle ache

bad +

bad back
bad head
bad leg

sore +

sore throat
sore eyes
sore feet

Types of doctor

Cardiologist: A heart doctor

Dermatologist: A skin doctor

Dentist: A doctor who treats teeth

General Practitioner: (G.P.) A family doctor who you would usually go to see for common health problems

Obstetrician: A doctor for female patients before and during pregnancy (child birth)

Optometrist: An eye doctor

Orthopedic Doctor / Surgeon: A doctor who specialise in bones

Pediatrician: A doctor for children

Surgeon: A doctor who performs operations

Other important words

Here are another few words that you might find useful:

Prescription: (Noun) The piece of paper that your doctor gives you with the name of the medicine you need on it.

Patient: (Person) A sick person in hospital or visiting the doctor's.

Drug Store (US) / Chemist's (UK) / Pharmacy: The place you go to get medicine.

Link: Talking about the Environment

  • Not being able to sleep at night is called ___.

  • Some people are ___ to dogs.

  • A doctor who operates on people is called a ___.

  • My nose has been ____.

  • I ___ a fever.

  • I have a ___ throat.

  • I have a stomach ___.

  • I'm feeling a little under the ___.

  • Doctor: 'What are your ___ ?

  • Take this ___ to the pharmacy and get your medicine.