In the IELTS exam, there are numerous topics that appear. These are typically topics that are common in daily life for the majority of people. For example, you often get questions about technology, sport, friends, transport, and music. You would never be asked about molecular biology or quantum physics! That is because IELTS is essentially just an English test and it requires no specialist knowledge.

One of the most common IELTS topics in all parts of the test is health. This appears because almost all human beings have a little knowledge to share and can form opinions on the subject.

Today, let’s look at the IELTS topic of health and some useful vocabulary that you could use in the test.

Health and the IELTS exam – What do you need to know?

First of all, before we actually look at some health vocabulary, we should think about when and how the topic of health could arise in the test. That will help us to figure out what vocabulary is most useful to learn.

Technically, the topic of health could arise in any part of the exam:

  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Listening

However, note that it would always be a fairly general topic. You would never be asked to discuss your personal health issues and you would never be expected to have an advanced knowledge of medicine or anatomy. Thus, in the speaking test, the questions would more than likely be ones related to society:

  • What can people do to improve their physical health?
  • Should teachers or parents be more responsible for children’s health?
  • Should governments tax unhealthy food?

These are the sorts of question that you would need to answer. This is actually quite similar to the ideas raised in IELTS writing task 2, where you might have to talk about society and health or the government’s role in preventing health problems.

Considering that, we can now move on to look at some appropriate vocabulary.

IELTS Health Vocabulary

First of all, let’s think about the types of words that we would realistically need to know to do well in IELTS. Obviously, the more you know, the better. However, you don’t need to have an expert understanding of immune systems or virology, for example.

It is useful to have a basic knowledge of words relating to:

  • Human anatomy
  • Common illnesses
  • Common medicines or medical treatments
  • Things that threaten people’s health

Now let’s look at some useful vocabulary in these categories.

Human Anatomy

The word “anatomy” means the parts of a body. Of course, you don’t need to know them all and you wouldn’t be expected to talk about everything, but knowing some basic ones is helpful.

Also, keep in mind that you may need words that go beyond the basic and superficial, so look up vocabulary referring to both interior and exterior anatomy. For example:

Brain Stomach Liver Kidneys Veins HeartHair Eyes Nose Ears Shoulder Knee

Here’s a diagram with some useful vocabulary:

human anatomy vocabulary for ielts

Finally, as the topic of health could arise in any part of the test, you don’t just need to know how to spell these words, but also to pronounce them. Pay particular attention to tricky words like “mouth.” For many English learners, the “th” sound at the end of this word is very hard to say, and they confuse the word “mouth” with “mouse”! This would be viewed as a serious and confusing error.

Common Illnesses

As the subject of health often entails some discussion of health problems, it is worth knowing various illnesses so that you can talk about them. One common way that this occurs is in IELTS writing task 2, where you frequently have to mention the effects of pollution or stress. In such cases, it is helpful to know illnesses and diseases.

For example, when talking about air pollution, you might mention:

  • Lung cancer
  • Respiratory problems
  • Stroke

When talking about fast food and sedentary lifestyles, you could talk about:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

When talking about issues in the workplace, perhaps you might discuss

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

The list is endless. It totally depends on you and your ideas, but it is worth knowing some common illnesses that you can mention. If you don’t know the exact name of an illness, don’t worry. Instead of naming it, you can just describe it. Few people would know the term “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” but you could easily replace it with “lung disease” or “lung problems.”

Finally, be careful when discussing mental health issues. The language surrounding this evolves fast and people are easily offended nowadays. It is best not to talk about “mental disease” or use archaic terminology. If you know a specific condition, use the name, and if you don’t then you can say “mental health issue(s).” According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, we should avoid saying “mentally ill.” (Source)

Common Medicines or Medical Treatments

Again, most IELTS candidates are not doctors and so it is unreasonable to expect them to know all about medicines and medical treatments. However, it is definitely worth knowing some basic terms. Certainly, you should be familiar with the following words:

  • Surgery
  • Medication
  • Pills
  • Rest
  • Painkiller

It would definitely be helpful to know a few common types of the above as well:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Paracetamol
  • Open-heart surgery
  • Plastic surgery

However, don’t worry about learning lots of different vocabulary for this area. Just knowing the basics is enough and you can always use language to avoid the specific terminology. For example, “surgery to fix a heart problem” would be a fine alternative to “open-heart surgery.”

Try to learn related groups of words, too. You should know the word “hospital” but also keep in mind that “hospitalise” is a verb. For example, “She was hospitalised after a bad accident.”

Finally, when we talk about medicine in English, we usually say “take medicine” or “take painkillers.” I know that in various other languages, people say “eat,” but this is not correct in English.

Things that Threaten People’s Health

When the topic of health comes up in IELTS, it is often connected to the idea of things that threaten people’s health. I have frequently encountered essay questions about pollution, fast food, traffic, modern lifestyles, and so on, all of which suggest the idea of people getting sick or risking an early death. Thus, you should be prepared to talk about these.

Common expressions in this area include:

  • Traffic accidents
  • Air pollution
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Unhealthy diets

You also need to be able to connect these issues to their related health issues. For example:

  • Nowadays, many people have unhealthy diets, which puts them at risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Air pollution is a common problem in cities around the world, causing various respiratory problems, such as lung cancer.

The phrases “put at risk” and “cause” are very useful here for explaining the relationship between the risk and the result.