Cultural Topics

Medical Spanish - Spanish for healthcare: cultural topics


Sometimes, a family might call a healthcare provider in their home country to see if he or she can send them medicine. Or they might already have something that was previously recommended, or an herbal remedy, and try it. It is important to ask, and do an internet search if it is not clear what it is. For example, it might turn out to be a brand name for tetracycline, or perhaps manzanilla, which means camomile tea, or Yerbabuena, which is a minty plant used in flavoring and herbal remedies.

Last names

Frequently, a Latino person may have what appears to be two last names. That is in fact correct. The first of the two, is the last name of the father, and the second is the last name of the mother. Sometimes here in the United States, a dash ends up between the two last names, and sometimes not. Also, sometimes one of the last names may be dropped completely. This is important to understand in order to avoid accidentally making two medical charts for the same patient!


Most Hispanic/Latino Americans are Christian. They might pray or say the rosary when a loved one is ill. The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her appearance to Juan Diego in the 16th century in Mexico is important to many. One of the most commonly heard prayers is Padre Nuestro (Our Father).


As in any culture, there is some folklore regarding illness, handed down through the years. And when needing help, a patient might seek a curandero, a folk healer considered to understand certain conditions. For example, as a treatment for hipo (hiccups), some people may place a tiny piece of thread in a little ball on the forehead. The following are some other examples, with recordings.

Empacho, Mal de ojo, Caída de mollera, Susto, Mal Aire


Empacho: (indigestion, or upset stomach) - Empacho generally refers to abdominal symptoms like discomfort, bloating, nausea, vomiting, etc. The term is applied when the cause is thought to be consumption of too many sweets, swallowed gum, or if someone is forced to eat something he or she does not like. El niño tiene dolor de barriga. Yo creo que es porque se traga los chicles. Le dí manzanilla y yerbabuena. The boy has abdominal pain. I believe that it is because he swallows gum. I gave him camomile tea and yerba buena (same word in English).


Mal de ojo: (sickness from eye, meaning from someone's gaze, or loosely translated as evil eye) - A baby can acquire this problem after receiving admiring or jealous looks from an adult. The baby may cry and become fussy and sickly. A red string with an amulet tied around the wrist is thought to be protective. If the person who is saying the compliment touches the baby, then the condition may be prevented. Treatment can involve passing an egg over the baby's body. Mi bebé no para de llorar. Sólo ha estado conmigo, excepto por una visita corta que nos hizo el dueño del edificio. Él tiene un hijo con autismo. My baby does not stop crying. He has only been with me, except for a short visit from the owner of the building. He has a son with autism.



Caída de mollera: (falling of the fontanelle) - Not surprisingly, this condition includes symptoms of gastroenteritis and dehydration, which, of course, can actually cause a sunken fontanelle. But it is also thought that this can occur from removing the breast or bottle suddenly (thereby pulling down the palate with a little vacuum), or from dropping the baby. Doctor, ¿puede decirme si la cabecita de mi bebé está bien? A veces, debo separarlo del seno porque se queda dormido. También tiene hipo, pero eso está mejorando. Doctor, can you tell me if the little head of my baby is ok? Sometimes, I must separate him from the breast because he falls asleep. He also has hiccups, but that is getting better.


Susto: (scare) - Susto can occur as chronic symptoms after a frightening experience. These may include insomnia, depression, and weight loss. Treatment is considered to be a ritual involving lying down as if on a cross, with a curandero trying to summon the soul to come back to the body. Mi hermana tiene tres días sin poder dormir. Hace un mes, ella fue testigo de un asalto a un banco donde hubo varias víctimas. Tal vez quedó muy impresionada. Ella quiere ver a un curandero. My sister has unable to sleep for three days. A month ago, she was witness to an assault at a bank where there were several victims. Maybe she ended up very affected. She wants to see a healer.


Mal aire: (bad air) - If cold or nighttime air enters into a body orifice, it can cause, for example, discomfort, pain, cold symptoms, or a muscle spasm. To help alleviate the problem, a cup can be squeezed a little, then the rim surface pushed onto the skin, then let to reform its shape creating a little vaccuum, thereby suctioning the skin. Mi hija tiene dolor de espalda. Ella durmió con la ventana abierta, y estaba haciendo mucho frío. My daughter has back pain. She was sleeping with the window open, and it was very cold.


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