Download Medical Terms in Lay Language2 PDF

TitleMedical Terms in Lay Language2
TagsHypertension Hyperthyroidism Paresthesia Cardiac Arrhythmia Adverse Effect
File Size68.2 KB
Total Pages7
Document Text Contents
Page 1


The CSM Working Group on Patient Information recognises that users may not be familiar with the
terms used in patient information leaflets to describe unwanted effects of a medicine.

In order to promote consistency and to aid production of clear and understandable leaflets, the
MHRA and the Working Group have developed the attached list of medical terms with suggested
wording suitable for lay readers to describe possible adverse effects of a medicine. The list is not
comprehensive and further terms will be added in the future.

Term Proposed lay term
Agranulocytosis Severe reduction in number of white blood cells

which makes infections more likely

Alopecia Hair loss

Amenorrhoea Absence of menstrual periods
Anaemia Reduction in red blood cells which can make the

skin pale and cause weakness or breathlessness

Anaphylactic, anaphylactoid reaction Serious allergic reaction which causes difficulty
in breathing or dizziness

Angina pectoris Chest pain
Angioedema, angioneurotic oedema Serious allergic reaction which causes swelling

of the face or throat

Anorexia Loss of appetite
Aplastic anaemia Severe reduction in blood cells which can cause

weakness, bruising or make infections more

Arrhythmia Irregular heart beat

Arthralgia Joint pain
Aspartame aminotransferase increased,
alanine aminotransferase increased, LFT

Blood tests which show changes in the way the
liver is working

Asthenia Feeling of weakness

Ataxia Difficulty in controlling movements

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Slower heart beat

Bronchoconstriction, bronchospasm
Difficulty in breathing or wheezing

Cardiac failure, heart failure Heart problems which can cause shortness of
breath or ankle swelling

Cerebrovascular accident

Colitis Inflammation which causes abdominal pain or

Convulsion or seizure

Deep vein thrombosis / venous
thromboembolism (VTE)

Blood clot, usually in a leg, which causes pain
swelling or redness

Double vision

Difficulty in speaking

Painful periods


Ectopic pregnancy Pregnancy outside the womb which can cause
severe pain, bleeding or collapse

Electrocardiogram QT prolonged
Abnormal ECG heart tracing

Emotional lability
Mood swings


Epistaxis Nosebleed

Haemorrhage Bleeding

Haemorrhoids (Piles) Swelling of blood vessels around the

Hyperhidrosis Increased sweating

Haemolytic anaemia Reduction in red blood cells which can make the
skin pale yellow and cause weakness or

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Hypo/hyperkalaemia Hypokalaemia: low blood levels of potassium

which can cause muscle weakness, twitching or
abnormal heart rhythm
Hyperkalaemia: high levels of blood potassium
which can cause abnormal heart rhythm

Hypo/hypernatraemia Hyponatraemia: low blood levels of sodium
which can cause tiredness and confusion, muscle
twitching, fits and coma

Hypernatraemia: high levels of blood sodium
which can cause confusion, muscle twitching or
abnormal heart rhythm

Feeling over-excited

Hypo/hypertension Low/high blood pressure

Hypo/hyperthyroidism Hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid gland
which can cause tiredness or weight gain

Hyperthyroidism: Overactive thyroid gland
which can cause increased appetite, weight loss
or sweating

Insomnia Difficulty in sleeping

Jaundice Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes
caused by liver or blood problems

Mania Feeling elated or over-excited, which causes
unusual behaviour

Muscle pain

Myocardial infarction Heart attack

Myopathy Pain or weakness in muscles

Nausea Feeling sick

Nephritis Inflammation of the kidney which can cause
swollen ankles or high blood pressure

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Palpitations Feeling your heartbeat

Orthostatic hypotension/postural

A fall in blood pressure on standing up which
causes dizziness, light-headedness or fainting

Panceatitis Inflammation of the pancreas, which causes
severe pain in the abdomen and back

Pancytopenia Severe reduction in blood cells which can cause
weakness, bruising or make infections more

Paraesthesia of extremities Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

Tremor, stiffness and shuffling

Periorbital oedema
Swelling around the eyes

Peripheral neuropathy A disorder of the nerves which can cause
weakness, tingling or numbness

Peripheral oedema
Swelling of the ankles, feet or fingers

Pneumonitis Inflammation of the lungs which causes
breathlessness, cough and raised temperature

Prostatism An enlarged prostate gland which causes
difficulty in passing urine in men


Pulmonary embolism Blood clot in the lungs which causes chest pain
and breathlessness

Pulmonary fibrosis Scarring of the lungs which causes shortness of


Raynaud’s phenomenon Poor blood circulation which makes the toes and
fingers numb and pale

Rhabdomyolysis Abnormal muscle breakdown which can lead to
kidney problems

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Swelling and irritation inside the nose


Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Serious illness with blistering of the skin,
mouth, eyes and genitals


Systemic lupus erythematosus Allergic condition which causes joint pain, skin
rashes and fever

Faster heart beat

Tardive dyskinesia Uncontrollable movements of mouth, tongue
and limbs

Thrombocytopenia Reduction in blood platelets, which increases
risk of bleeding or bruising

Ringing in the ears

Torsades de pointes (also ventricular

Life-threatening irregular heart beat

Toxic epidermal necrolysis
Serious illness with blistering of the skin


Uveitis Inflammation of the eye which causes pain and

Vasculitis Inflammation of blood vessels, often with skin

Ventricular fibrillation
Life-threatening irregular heartbeat

A feeling of dizziness or “spinning”

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Principles for developing definitions:

1. How to use these definitions: the wording of each leaflet should be considered individually

to ensure that the specific information for that medicine is conveyed accurately and in a way
that is comprehensible to most of the intended readers. User testing will help to identify if
there are specific problems in comprehension or interpretation. This should focus in
particular on any areas where the patient has to take action if an adverse effect is suspected.

2. When to use lay definitions: definitions should be used when the medical term is not well

known in the general population.

3. Level of detail: it will be appropriate to include more details to enable the reader to identify

possible symptoms of an adverse effect where this is a key safety issue and the patient
should take action to prevent further harm. It may be appropriate to group effects into broad
categories such as “heart problems” and provide a lesser degree of detail for very rare and
minor effects where specific instructions on action are not needed.

4. General format: the standard format is to describe what the condition is and then what a

sufferer may feel. This latter is to help patients in identifying whether they may be suffering
from the effect described. This may not be necessary if the condition is well known or the
symptoms obvious from the description of the condition.

5. Inclusion of medical terms: pharmaceutical companies should also consider including the

medical term where this is an important feature and may help the reader interpret other
sources of information about the medicine.

6. Where to use these definitions: these definitions should be used to describe adverse effects

of the medication. They may also be used in other sections such as warnings but may not be
necessary. For example, a patient suffering from myasthenia gravis would usually recognise
the name of the condition. However, a brief description of the type of condition may be
helpful to other users.

7. Alternative wordings: there may be circumstances where alternative wording is considered

more appropriate, in which case justification should be provided.

8. Serious: use this term to indicate that the condition is usually medically significant (e.g. is

likely to require medical attention, such as hospitalisation). For example, Stevens-Johnson
syndrome causes serious blistering and anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction. This is not
necessary when the seriousness of the condition is obvious or well known.

9. Severe: where necessary to distinguish from symptoms or medical effects that might

otherwise be considered as mild (e.g. severe headache, or severe pain accompanying
myocardial infarction).

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