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A to Z of terms

The A to Z guide covers style, spelling and grammar conventions for all content published on HSE.ie.


Not aging


Not acquired immune deficiency syndrome

alcohol misuse

Not alcohol abuse

Alzheimer’s disease

Not alzheimers disease


Plural; a bacterium is one of them but use ‘bacteria’ generally. If you give the full Latin name, cap the first word (Staphylococcus aureus); but the shortened staphylococcus is lower case. Don’t use italics.


One word, no hyphen

breast milk

2 words




Lower case and ends ‘ean’


An unpaid family member, partner or friend who helps a disabled, ill or older person with the activities of daily living. Do not use it to describe someone who works in a caring job or profession – for that use careworker or their professional title, for example nurse.


Use the lower case except where they start with a name. For example, cancer of the colon, multiple sclerosis, but Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease.

CT scan

CT scan (computerised tomography scan), then use ‘CT scan’ for subsequent mentions. Also known as CAT scan (computerised axial tomography) – we use CT scan.

dependent or dependant

Dependent is an adjective describing something that depends on something; dependant is a noun meaning a person who depends on another for support (your dependants are dependent on you).


As an adjective; serving to identify a particular disease. As a noun; the practice of medical diagnosis or a technique used in diagnosis


Use GP, not doctor, for general practitioner. Keep doctor for hospital doctors or consultants, or use their job title with an explanation if necessary, for example ‘a child health doctor (paediatrician)’.


See medicines. When you talk about drugs, ensure the context makes clear whether you mean legal or illegal ones.

drug misuse

Not drug abuse

drug users

The preferred term is people who use drugs

health professionals, healthcare professionals

People who work in identifying, preventing or treating illness or disability. Avoid where possible and instead use a term that describes what the people do – GPs, nurses.

the HSE

Refer to the Health Service Executive as ‘the HSE’ (for example, ‘You can apply for a job at the HSE’)


This is the name of the HSE website (for example, ‘Find out how to get a medical card on HSE.ie’)



Generally, use the generic (scientific name) first followed by the brand name with an initial cap and in brackets, for example: atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Some medicines are better-known by their brand names than their generic names. In that case, use the generic name in brackets – for example, Viagra (sildenafil). Once medicines have lost their patent protection, there may be rival branded generics that have a brand name and ordinary generics that use just the generic name. Some might have several brand names. For example, the asthma drug salbutamol has Airomir, Asmasal and Ventolin brand names as well as the generic name. In cases such as this give the best-known brand name (tested using keyword research), but indicate there are several – salbutamol (brand names include Ventolin).

Some medicines have no brand names in use – examples include warfarin and hydrocortisone.


Lower case, methadone

people who use the HSE (see patients, service users)

There is no single term for people who use the HSE. What you call them depends on which part of the HSE they are using. Normally on HSE.ie you address people directly, as ‘you’. If you ever need to refer to people indirectly, be as specific as possible: employees, HSE.ie users, older people applying for medical cards.

per cent

% in titles and copy


service user

Lower case, not Service User

spina bifida

Lower case, spina bifida. See also hydrocephalus

substance misuse

Not substance abuse


Died by suicide, not committed suicide


Lower case, symphysiotomy



Upper case, not traveller