25 Fancy Medical Terms for Mundane Problems
By Arika Okrent
Your health issues might be mundane, but that’s no reason to be boring. Give your complaints some interesting heft with these fancy medical terms for commonplace problems.
1. and 2. Obdormition and Paresthesia
That numb feeling that you wake to when you’ve slept on your arm wrong is obdormition. It is followed by a pricking, tingling sensation called paresthesia.
3. Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia
Say this term for an ice cream headache five times fast to warm up your mouth and relieve the brain freeze.
If you ever feel the sudden flutter under your skin from a small bundle of muscle fibers spontaneously contracting, you can say you’re experiencing fasciculation (from fasciculus, “little bundle”).
5. and 6. Heloma Molle and Heloma Durum
That callus on your foot may be soft, in which case it’s a heloma molle. If it's hard, it's a heloma durum.
7. Transient Lingual Papillitis
One tiny, swollen taste bud looks like no big deal in the mirror, but feels distractingly humongous in your mouth. It has a big name to match that big feeling: transient lingual papillitis.
8. and 9. Onychocryptosis and Unguis Incarnatus
If you want to go Greek when describing your ingrown toenail, it’s onychocryptosis (“hidden nail”), but if you prefer Latin, stick with unguis incarnatus (“nail in flesh”).
10. Aphthous Stomatitis
Aphthous stomatitis, the word for canker sores, is hard to say even without canker sores.
11. Morsicatio Buccarum
You know how sometimes you bite the inside of your cheek by accident, and then you get that little ridge of tissue that sticks out so that you end up biting it again and again? That’s morsicatio buccarum, baby.
12. Transient Diaphragmatic Spasm
Getting the wind knocked out of you feels bad, but doesn’t last very long. Just a transient diaphragmatic spasm.
13. Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter
The more rhythmic diaphragm action of the hiccup is a synchronous diaphragmatic flutter.
Why sneeze when you can sternutate?
15. Muscae Volitantes
What are those little transparent threads you can see floating across your eyeball when you pay close attention? Just muscae volitantes (“flying flies”) the name for the little bits of protein or other material in the jelly inside your eye.
16. and 17. Nocturnal Enuresis and Diurnal Enuresis
If you wet the bed at night it’s nocturnal enuresis. If you have accidents during the day it’s diurnal enuresis.
18. Vasovagal Syncope
If you faint at the sight of blood or upon hearing some shocking news, it’s probably vasovagal syncope, an automatic response mediated by the vagus nerve. Tightly laced corsets only make it worse.
19. Orthostatic Hypotension
If a dizzy, head rush feeling is brought on by standing up too fast, it’s orthostatic hypotension.
All that rumbling and gurgling in the stomach and guts goes by the name borborygmi.
The Latin horrere originally referred to bristling, or hair standing on end, a sense captured by the word for goose bumps, horripilation.
22. Gustatory Rhinitis
When your nose is running while you’re spooning in that spicy soup, you’ve got gustatory rhinitis.
All that popping, creaking, and cracking of joints when you get out of bed in the morning goes by the name of crepitus, from the Latin for “rattle, crack.” The word decrepit goes back to the same root.
24. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome
People aren’t very impressed by shin splints, but they might be impressed by medial tibial stress syndrome.
Overdid it last night? Just explain to your boss that you’ve got a bit of veisalgia. This fancy word for hangover was coined in a 2000 paper in a medical journal. It combines the Norwegian word kveis (“uneasiness following debauchery”) with the Greek word for pain.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2022.