Medical Glossary
for Guyana
by Michael S. Cole, M.D.
18 June 2000

Since my first medical mission trip to Guyana in 1991, it was apparent that practicing medicine in Guyana has some special challenges that can easily be overlooked during preparation for the trip. One mistake is to think that the Guyanese should speak the same English dialect as we use in our medical practices in the States. Just as physicians and nurses need to learn the common medical terminology used by our patients in the U.S., we will best be able to communicate with our patients in Guyana when we understand the words and phrases the typical Guyanese patient will use to describe their signs and symptoms, body parts and functions.

The following list explains many of the differences between what I've heard Guyanese patients say and how my brain should interpret it. During my annual trips to Guyana to do clinical work among the poor, I've heard some of these words and phrases used by all Guyanese, though a few terms are more typical of the rural dweller. Terminology may vary from village to village. I still have difficulty understanding "th" sounds in Guyana; "three" often sounds like "tree" to us Americans.

This list is offered to assist the medical worker in developing better communication skills with their Guyanese patients. If you know of other words that should be included on this list, would you please let me know? I still have not figured out all the ways "cold" is used.

Special thanks to Devi Persaud for her additions to this list.

Guyanese patient termsAmerican doctor terms
all twoboth
apparatin [spelling?]diarrhea
becoming a womanmenarche
belly grumblinghungry, or gas in abdomen
boilsacne or any papules on the skin; with some patients, easy to confuse with "piles"
boreused as "a doctor bore me"; can mean that the patient had an injection or a doctor drained a wound, abscess, or fluid from the body
bound upconstipated
breathe inoften best phrase to use for "take a deep breath"
can't dirtyconstipated
can't feel hands/feetnumbness
can't pass waterurinary retention
carry thistake this, as in "carry this to the pharmacy"
chestupper chest
chest full of coldproductive cough
coughing up coldproductive cough
dirtyto have a bowel movement
the doctor sounded methe doctor listened to my chest and heart
drink tabletsswallow pills
eyes dazzlingfuzzy vision
eyes run waterwatery eyes, usually from bright sunlight
fat wormslarge worms in the stool; usually Ascaris
finesmall and thin
fine wormspinworms
finishedall pills have been taken; "ran out"
flip-floppingheart palpitations
footdistal to the knee, though some use "foot" to mean their entire leg
gather waterankle edema
getting a babypregnant
go to urineurinate
handdistal to the elbow, though some use "hand" to mean their entire arm
had a dripreceived an intravenous [I.V.] infusion
had it cuthad an operation; had surgery
hard boilabscess
head coldsinuses, or headaches associated with sinus problems
head going arounddizzy
head swimmingdizzy
head swingingdizzy
heavy coldbad cold
heavy feverhigh fever
How many years do you have?How old are you?
in and outoff and on; intermittent
lottatinea versicolor
messingbowel movements
muscle bongmuscle cramps in the legs (Charley horse)
narahabdominal pains     [East Indian term]
no windshort of breath
nose runs waterrunny nose
nose stuffed upnose stopped up
passing coldmucus in the stools
pileshemorrhoids; with some patients, easily confused with "boils"
scratchingitching or rash
skin very hotfever
stickingsharp pain(s)
stomachlower chest
stoppage of waterurinary retention
stretch out your tonguebest phrase I've found to get a child to understand to "stick out" his or her tongue
sugardiabetes mellitus
swelling of the body fluid retention
tabletspills, capsules, and tablets
thread wormspinworms
throw away babyabortion
waistlow back; lumbar
when I was getting herwhen I was pregnant
windabdominal gas; belching
wind painbloating
wormed her outgave the girl medicine for parasites

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