9 pieces of medical jargon you might not understand

15 March 2016

11 March 2016

Michael Woodhead

woman patient reading letter

Patients have expressed a strong desire to see the medical jargon in correspondence between specialists and their GPs translated into plain English, a New Zealand study of 60 outpatients found.

The study at a New Zealand hospital found that patients had a much better understanding of their chronic disease management when discharge letters had medical jargon replaced with plain English.

Almost 80% of patients preferred the translated letter over the original, and 70% said this enhanced their perception of the doctor's professionalism.

Here are 9 examples of medical terms (“doctor speak”) with their translated plain-English equivalents. How many of the medical terms on the left do you understand?

Original term

Translated term

Peripheral oedema

Ankle swelling


Heart ultrasound


Fast heart rate

Ischaemic heart disease

Coronary artery disease


High blood pressure

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea

Waking at night breathless


Breathless while lying down




Unknown cause

Last Reviewed: 15 March 2016
Reproduced with kind permission from Australian Doctor


1. Wernick M, et al. A randomised crossover trial of minimising medical terminology in secondary care correspondence in patients with chronic health conditions: impact on understanding and patient reported outcomes. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/imj.13062/abstract
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