Articles With Names of Symptoms and Diseases

Because most symptom names are countable, they usually require an article (a, an, the) or another determiner to identify or quantify the noun.

Because most symptom names are countable, they usually require an article (a/the) or another determiner to identify or quantify the noun.

I had a severe toothache last week.

Omit the article, however, to speak about a symptom or health condition in a general sense.

Stomachaches can be caused by a range of different factors, including constipation, indigestion, and appendicitis.

As a general rule, do not use “a”, “an”, or “the” before names of illnesses or diseases.

My child has appendicitis.

But there are exceptions. For example, you can include the article “the” with a number of traditional diseases, such as the flu, the measles, or the chickenpox, specially in informal situations.

My whole family has the flu.

1. Articles With Symptom Names

1.1 Countable Names (Colds, Sore throats, Headaches, etc.)

Most names of symptoms and self-diagnosed conditions are countable, so we say a cold, a sore throat, a headache, etc.

I had two headaches last month.

My child had five colds last year.

Singular countable nouns are generally preceded by an article (a, an, the) or another determiner (this, that, my, your, his, etc.).

My sister has a sore throat.

Resting in a quiet, dark place can help ease your headache.

When naming a specific group or collection of colds, sore throats, headaches, etc., add a determiner (the, most, many, all, those, their, etc.) to identify or quantify the noun.

Many headaches are caused by lack of sleep.

Avoid the determiner when using a symptom name in a general sense.

Sore throats are very common and generally nothing to worry about.

This is a partial list of symptoms and conditions that take a/an:

1.2 Names that Are Both Countable and Uncountable (Pain and Migraine)

The nouns pain and migraine can be both countable and uncountable; thus, you can say:

I have a pain in my arm.

I have pain in my arm.

When it comes to describing your pain or migraine, the more precise you are in terms of location, frequency, intensity, etc., the more likely you will use the indefinite article a/an.

My wife has an excruciating pain in her stomach.

1.3 Countable Names that Can Also Be Uncountable in British English (Fever, Stomachache, Earache, Backache, Toothache)

In British English, most aches (stomachache, toothache, earache, backache, etc.) can be both countable and uncountable; therefore, you can optionally omit the article.

I’ve got stomachache.

Headache” is an exception to this practice.

My husband has a headache.

My husband has headache.

In American English, aches are countable nouns.

My child has a toothache.

I had three stomachaches last month.

The word “fever” has the same optionality in British English.

Olivia has fever.

Fever is a rise in body temperature.

In American English, the noun “fever” is always countable, and we normally say "have a fever".

My wife has a fever.

His fever is too high.

Some fevers cannot be explained.

The expressions “have a temperature” or “be running a high temperature” implies that someone’s temperature is just above normal.

Last night John had a temperature and went to bed early.

By contrast, expressions like “have a fever”, “treat a fever”, “bring down a fever”, etc. suggest that the temperature is significantly higher.

Rebecca didn’t go to work because she had a fever.

2. Articles With Disease Names

Medical names for diseases are uncountable (diabetes, lupus, cancer, etc.); consequently, we do not use the article "a" or "an" with them.

My niece has lupus.

However, there are a number of traditional folk names of diseases that can be preceded by the article “the” (the flu, the measles, the chickenpox, etc.), particularly in informal situations.

2.1 Diseases and Conditions

Most diseases and illnesses are uncountable.

I have diabetes.

I have the diabetes.

I have a diabetes.

Thus, use the singular form to talk about a particular condition in a general sense.

What causes high blood pressure?

Possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, our, your, their) can be added to introduce someone’s disease

John seemed in good shape despite his diabetes.

Follow the same convention with the following health conditions:

My brother has appendicitis.

I have breast cancer.

A disease name can also be an adjective. In this case, use the articles (a, an, or the) or another determiner (most, fewer, some, many, etc.) according to the usual rules.

Counseling may help some cancer patients with depression.

2.2 Traditional Folk Names of Diseases

Typically used in informal language, the article “the” can precede certain names of traditional diseases, such as the flu, the chickenpox, the measles, and the clap.

My sister has the chickenpox.

I had the flu last month.

Flu is short for influenza. We typically use the noun influenza (without “the”) in formal situations or professional contexts.

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.

The influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.

This is a partial list of traditional diseases that can be used with the article “the”:

3. Other Health Conditions (Tumors, Warts, Growths, Sore foot, etc.)

The following names of symptoms and health conditions are usually preceded by an article or another determiner:

  • a tumor
  • a wart
  • a growth
  • a sore foot, a sore back, etc.

It's a tumor in the spinal cord.

But do not include the article when using these words in a general sense.

Not all people who have a tumor have the same symptoms.

4. Can You Use ‘Having’ Followed by a Health Condition?

When talking about a health condition, the verb “have” cannot be used in the continuous tense.

I have a backache.

I’m having a backache.

This particular construction (having + health condition) can work, however, with the plural form of a symptom to discuss a frequency reading.

My child has been having many sore throats last month.

You can use the continuous tense with other verbs, like “treat”, “suffer”, “experience”, “recover”, etc.

Are you suffering from fever?

She is recovering from an acute stomachache.

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