How to Talk about Illness in Spanish

Illness in SpanishWhenever you go on holiday the last thing you want is to fall ill or have an accident and end up at the doctor’s surgery, chemist or even the hospital! However this has sometimes happened to some of the people that I have taught Spanish to, so they were very thankful that we had covered this topic in Spanish – just in case!

Don’t let an illness spoil your holiday. If you learn just a few key phrases and learn to understand the questions that the doctor or pharmacist is likely to ask you, you will have a much more stress-free holiday.

In this blog post we will teach you a few of the key words and phrases to express feeling ill or being in pain.

Understanding the doctor’s questions

Firstly, you will be asked what is wrong with you. You will probably hear questions such as the following:

¿Qué te pasa? – What’s the matter? (informal)
¿Qué le pasa? – What’s the matter? (formal)
¿Qué tiene/tienes? – What do you have? (formal/informal)

How to say you feel unwell

Estoy enfermo/a – I am ill (enfermo – male / enferma – female)
Él está enfermoHe is ill
Ella está enfermaShe is ill
Me siento mal – I feel ill
No me siento bien – I don’t feel well
Me encuentro mal – I feel ill

How to say something hurts

The key verb you need is “doler” (to hurt). This is a stem-changing verb so become “duele” and works in the same way as the verb “gustar” (to like). So you also need a pronoun:

Me duele – it hurts me
e.g. Me duele la espalda – My back hurts me [Me – it hurts – the back]

Me duelenthey hurt me
e.g. Me duelen los pies – My feet hurt me

Le duele – It hurts him/her
e.g. Le duele el estómago – His/her stomach hurts

Le duelen las piernas – His/her legs hurt

To make it exactly clear if you mean he or she, you would add:

A él le duele el estómagoHis stomach hurts
A ella le duele el estómagoHer stomach hurts

Parts of the body

la cabeza – head
la garganta – throat
los ojos – eyes
los oídos – ears
los dientes – teeth
la boca – mouth
la nariz – nose
el cuello – neck
la espalda – back
el estómago – stomach
el brazo – arms
la mano – hand
el dedo – finger
la muñeca – wrist
la cadera – hip
la pierna – leg
la rodi
lla – knee
el tobillo – ankle
el pie – foot
el dedo de pie – toe

Ailments that use “tener”

There are quite a few illnesses that you would use “Tengo” (I have) for:

Tengo gripe – I have flu
Tengo insolación – I have sunstroke
Tengo tos – I have a cough
Tengo un resfriado – I have a cold
Tengo fiebre – I have a fever
Tengo dolor de cabeza – I have a headache
Tengo náuseas – I feel sick
Tengo intoxicación alimentaria – I have food poisoning

Other symptoms

Estoy mareado/a – I am dizzy/faint
Me desmayé – I fainted
Me corté la mano – I cut my hand
Me golpeé el brazo – I hurt my arm
Me quemé la mano – I burnt my hand
Soy alérgico/a a … – I am allergic to …

Further questions

The doctor may ask how long you have felt ill.

¿Desde cuándo? – Since when?
¿Cuándo pasó? – When did it happen?
¿Sufre de algo? – Do you suffer from anything?
¿Enfermedades en familia? – Any family illnesses?

Doctor’s advice

The doctor will probably prescribe something to you or make a suggestion using phrase such as:

Tiene que descansar – You have to rest
Debe quedarse en casa – You should stay at home
Hay que beber mucha agua – You must drink lots of water
Le voy a recetar unas pastillas – I am going to prescribe some tablets
Tiene que tomar una pastilla tres veces al día – You have to take a tablet three times a day
Después de comer – after eating
Necesita un análisis de sangre – You need a blood test


jarabe para la tos – cough syrup
una tirita – a plaster
unas pastillas – tablets
gotas para los ojos – eye drops
gotas para los oídos – ear drops
una pomada – ointment
ungüento – ointment
una venda – a bandage
un vendaje – a dressing
crema antiséptica – antiseptic cream

Hopefully you won’t need any of the above phrases but it is better to be safe than sorry so it is definitely worth learning a few key phrases just in case!

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