French Vocabulary: Illnesses and Ailments

Learn How to Convey a Sickness or Medical Condition in French

Getting sick is never fun, but being in a foreign country and not being able to communicate your illness can definitely ruin your trip. Learn some French illness vocabulary so that you can communicate with French-speaking doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists.

Travelers who have specific illnesses or ailments, like allergies or diabetes, will want to memorize the phrases for that particular condition prior to traveling.

It will ensure that you can get proper and prompt aid should an emergency arise.

Note: Many of the words below are linked to .wav files. Simply click on the link to listen to the pronunciation.

How to Ask for Medical Help

Let's begin with the simple words you will need when asking for help and the medical professionals you may need to call on.

Should you have a medical emergency, you can call for help using one of these phrases.

When you need the attention of a medical professional, use one of these phrases. Begin each request with "avoir besoin..." (to need...) and end it with the type of professional help you require.

to need...avoir besoin...
... help... d'aide
... a doctor... d'un médecin
... a nurse... un infirmier
... an ambulance... d'une ambulance
... a dentist... un dentiste
... a pharmacist... un pharmacien

Medical Emergencies

While traveling, medical emergencies can be very serious, particularly if you cannot speak the language.

If you cannot tell someone what is wrong, it can lead to a feeling of helplessness and possible mistreatment.

Be prepared by learning a few simple phrases. It may even be helpful to write down your condition and these phrases in French and have them in a convenient location, such as your wallet or bag.

to have a heart attackavoir une crise cardiaque
to have a strokeavoir une attaque
to be in laborêtre en travail
to break one's arm, legse casser le bras, la jambe

Asthma

People who have asthma should memorize these two lines as they can quickly convey your needs to the people around you.

to have asthmaêtre asthmatique
to need an inhaleravoir besoin d'un inhalateur

Diabetes

Likewise, if you have diabetes, these French phrases are essential before you travel.

to have diabetesêtre diabétique
to need sugar nowavoir besoin de sucre immédiatement

Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is a concern, it will not hurt to learn these phrases in French. Notice the subtle difference between high and low blood pressure.

Blood pressurela tension arterielle
to have high blood pressurefaire de l'hypertension
to have low blood pressurefaire de l'hypotension

Allergies

Allergies are nothing to play around with, either. If you or someone you're traveling with has an allergy, you should know the French translation prior to your trip. 

Are you allergic to certain foods? Learn how to say that particular food in French and say it after "être allergique à ..." 

This is also important while dining, so you can ask if, for instance, peanuts are an ingredient: Sont le arachides dans cette nourriture ? (Are peanuts in this food?)

to be allergic to...être allergique à ...
... aspirin... l'aspirine
... iodine... l'iode
... penicillin... la pénicilline

Common Illnesses and Ailments

The most common French verbs for describing illness are avoir and être. You will notice that some ailments use one or the other and that either can mean 'to be' or 'to have'.

This first group uses the verb "avoir..."

to have...avoir...
... arthritis... de l'arthrite
... diarrhea... la diarrhée
... an earache... mal à l'oreille
... a fever... de la fièvre
... the flu... la grippe
... frostbite... des engelures
... hangover... la gueule de bois
... hay fever... un rhume des foins
... a headache... mal à la tête
... heartburn... des brûlures d'estomac
... hemorrhoids (piles)... des hémorroïdes
... motion sickness... le mal des transports
... a runny nose... le nez qui coule
... sinusitis... de la sinusite
... a stomachache... mal à l'estomac
... a toothache... mal aux dents

Do you have an ache somewhere else? Learn the basic French words for various body parts.

If you have any of these conditions, you will begin the sentence with être... (to have...).

to have...être...
... insomnia... insomniaque
... a cold... enrhumé

You can describe a condition or symptom in French with these words. They are also preceded by être... (to be...).

to have...être...
... constipated... constipé
... jet lagged... fatigué dû au décalage horaire
... pregnant... enceinte
... sick... malade
... sunburnt... brûlé par le soleil
... tired... fatigué

To describe how you are feeling or the following symptoms, begin with the verb avoir... (to be).

to be...avoir...
... cold... froid
... dizzy... le vertige
... hot... chaud
... seasick ... le mal de mer