Take a Sick Day: Over 50 Chinese Medical Terms for Anything That Ails You
A hospital’s a scary place.
It’s even worse when you don’t speak the language.
Sure, you can resort to your handy, dandy translation app. However, neither you nor the hospital staff has time to be communicating via mobile dictionaries.
Wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone if you learned your symptoms in Chinese beforehand? You’ve come to the right place.
- Why You Should Know Chinese Medical Terms
- Booking Your Appointment
- Basic Chinese Medical Terms
- Let’s Talk About Your Symptoms
- Advanced Chinese Medical Terms
Why You Should Know Chinese Medical Terms
You might be thinking: I’ll just make do with the vocabulary I already know. You could say you have a “hot head” for a fever and play charades with other aches and pains, but it’s definitely worth taking on the challenge of learning the vocab.
Take it from me. I’m someone who’s comfortable talking to Chinese people on a daily basis and, as a result, I’ve had to accompany my fellow foreign friends to the hospital. It helps to have someone who can actually communicate your issues across effectively.
That’s not to say I haven’t had my own medical misadventures. A while back, I had this strange bump on my right eyelid. I’ve had my fair share of eye problems, being a contact lens-wearer and all, but this bump was entirely new to me.
From having to call in for an appointment to giving my contact details and taking my eye test, I didn’t fumble when speaking to my optometrist in Chinese. It wasn’t until we were discussing my symptoms that there was a slight hiccup: I had no idea how to say “itchy.”
Overall, things went smoothly, and I learned something new out of the experience: I ended up getting the right treatment and learning that the word for “itchy” in Chinese is 发痒 (fā yǎng). But things would have been so much easier if I could just have told the doctors about my symptoms from the beginning.
Don’t be like me: Use the guide below to learn how to say “itchy,” and over 50 other Chinese medical terms and expressions, before you visit the doctor.
Booking Your Appointment
Let’s begin with learning how to set up your doctor’s appointment.
Knowing how to have a conversation on the phone is a necessary skill to have when living in China. While hospitals accept walk-ins, clinics and outpatient departments require appointments, scheduled ahead of time via telephone.
Before you make that call, you should probably brush up on things like telling time in Chinese, as well as the days of the week. You can also prep by watching authentic videos on the topic on a program like FluentU. This program lets you browse by searching for a specific word or by topic, format and skill level, and it also lets you create flashcards from words, which you can then study through personalized quizzes.
Here are a few terms you’ll need when calling in for an appointment:
预约 (yù yuē) — appointment
手机号码 (shǒu jī hào mǎ) — cellphone number
电话号码 (diàn huà hào mǎ) — telephone number, landline
地址 (dì zhǐ) — address
电子邮件地址 (diàn zǐ yóu jiàn dì zhǐ) — email address
出生日期 (chū shēng rì qí) — date of birth
后天 (hòu tiān) — day after tomorrow
下周五 (xià zhōu wǔ) — next Friday
明天早上 (míng tiān zǎo shang) — tomorrow morning
Now, here are a few examples of what you might say while making the appointment over the phone or at the receptionist’s desk:
我要预约看医生。 (wǒ yào yù yuē kàn yī shēng.) — I want to make an appointment to see the doctor.
医生下周六上午十点有时间吗？ (yī shēng xià zhōu liù shàng wǔ shí diǎn yǒu shí jiān ma?) — Is the doctor available next Saturday at 10 a.m.?
我的手机号码是一七七二零二零二零七七九。 (wǒ de shǒu jī hào mǎ shì yī qī qī èr líng èr líng èr líng qī qī jiǔ.) — My cellphone number is 17720202079.
我的出生日期是一九九零年九月二十二日。 (wǒ de chū shēng rì qí shì yī jiǔ jiǔ líng nián jiǔ yuè èr shí èr rì.) — My date of birth is September 22nd, 1990.
Other than your phone number, receptionists probably won’t ask for contact details until you show up for your appointment.
Remember to bring your passport. If you’re studying abroad or working in the Middle Kingdom, it would be a good idea to bring a copy of your Registration of Temporary Residence, in case you haven’t quite memorized your address yet.
Basic Chinese Medical Terms
Now that you know how to make an appointment, it’s time to familiarize yourself with some Chinese medical terms, starting with the basics:
To tell someone you’re sick, just say “我病了” (wǒ bìng le). Simple enough, right?
Let’s move on to hospital vocabulary. You might have learned some of these already in a hospital-themed lesson, and they’re extremely helpful to know when communicating with locals for the nearest hospital or looking at street and store signs when searching for the clinic or pharmacy.
医院 (yī yuàn) — hospital
急救室 (jí jiù shì) — Emergency Room
门诊部 (mén zhěn bù) — clinic; outpatient department
医生 (yī shēng) — doctor
护士 (hù shì) — nurse
病人 (bìng rén) — patient
药 (yào) — drugs, medicine
药方 (yào fāng) — prescription
药店 (yào diàn) — pharmacy
药剂师 (yào jì shī) — pharmacist
Let’s Talk About Your Symptoms
You’ve finally made it to your appointment and are face-to-face with your doctor. It’s time to explain why you’re here.
Again, it’s not always enough to say, “it hurts.” In addition to knowing the Chinese translations of body parts so you can express where exactly the ailment is, you’ll also need to describe your sickness or injury.
In this section of the list, the terms actually double up as nouns/adjectives and verbs. So, to say: “I have x symptom,” just say: 我 (wǒ) + any of the items below.
发烧 (fā shāo) — to have a fever/high temperature
感冒 (gǎn mào) — to have a cold
头痛 (tóu tòng) — to have a headache
头晕 (tóu yūn) — to be dizzy
咳嗽 (ké sòu) — to have a cough
牙疼 (yá téng) — to have a toothache
呕吐 (ǒu tù) — to vomit
The following medical terms are nouns, so for these symptoms, you’ll have to say 我有 (wǒ yǒu) + any of the vocab words below:
喉咙痛 (hóu lóng tòng) — sore throat
发冷 (fā lěng) — chill (the chills)
腹泻 (fù xiè) — diarrhea
皮疹 (pí zhěn) — rash, measles
过敏症 (guò mǐn zhèng) — allergy
胃灼热 (wèi zhuó rè) — heartburn
Here are a couple of sentence examples so you can see how to format your own sentences:
我头痛。 (wǒ tóu tòng.) — I have a headache.
我有发冷。 (wǒ yǒu fā lěng.) — I have the chills.
There are a few irregularities worth mentioning. Some terms can’t be used interchangeably as nouns/adjectives, or seem redundant when translated literally. To make your life easier, here are a few phrases you can memorize:
我肚子疼。 (wǒ dù zi téng.) — I have a stomach ache.
我鼻子流鼻涕。 (wǒ bí zǐ liú bí tì.) — I have a runny nose.
我鼻子堵了。 (wǒ bí zi dǔ le.) — My nose is blocked/I have a stuffy nose.
Need more details to describe your symptoms? Here are a few other adjectives you might find helpful:
发痒 (fā yǎng) — itchy
发炎 (fā yán) — inflamed
肿 — (zhǒng) — swollen
Advanced Chinese Medical Terms
After discussing your symptoms, your doctor will take your vitals and possibly order tests if needed. Even if you don’t know how to use the terminology below in a sentence, knowing the vocab will at least help you figure out what the doctor’s saying and how to read the signs around the hospital, in case you need to go to different departments.
These are the tests you may need:
X光 (guāng ) — X-Ray
超声 (chāo shēng) — ultrasound
磁共振成像 (cí gòng zhèn chéng xiàng) — Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
验血 (yàn xuě) — blood test
视力检查 (shì lì jiǎn chá) — vision/eye test
心率 (xīn lǜ) — heart rate
血压 (xuě yā) — blood pressure
And here are the names of different departments, so you know where you need to go for the specific tests:
病理 (bìng lǐ) — pathology
儿科 (ér kē) — pediatrics
骨科 (gǔ kē) — orthopedics
内科 (nèi kē) — internal medicine
妇产科 (fù chǎn kē) — Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB-GYN)
临床外科 (lín chuáng wài kē) — clinical surgery
皮肤科 (pí fū kē) — Dermatology
There are loads of different phrases you can learn in order to survive day-to-day life in China but because of the infrequency of hospital and doctor visits, we often find ourselves clueless when we need a checkup.
Some are lucky enough to live in Shanghai or Beijing, where they have international hospitals or at least local hospitals with English-speaking staff. The reality is that not every city in China will be like that, and that holds especially true if you’re in rural parts of the nation.
But if you know the vocab and general sentence structures for common Chinese medical terms, hospital visits don’t have to be as intimidating as they seem. You can always bring a local friend or one who generally speaks better Chinese to ease your anxiety. Just try to do most of the talking instead of relying on your friend—it’s a learning experience!