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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


avoid using and/or. Instead, use ‘or’. For example: ask the nurse or midwife to explain what everything is for.


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.


information in brackets should only be used for definitions, abbreviations, PDF document details and common explanations.

An example used for a common explanation is: Hyperarousal (feeling 'on edge').


One word, no hyphen

breast milk

2 words




not back passage, anus, rectum, bum or bottom


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 a comma before 'and' (Oxford comma) only in cases where sentences are complex or confusing.

 For example, find out information about your holiday entitlement or sickness absence, calculating leave, and disputes.


lower case except where they start with a name.

For example, cancer of the colon, multiple sclerosis, but Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease.

When stating the name of a condition or treatment, lead with plain English description and follow up with terms a health professional might use.

For example, 'this is a screening test. It is also known as a smear test.'

connected to

use 'connected to' for a machine and use common sense for other examples, e.g. 'attached' or 'inserted' depending on context. Never use 'hooked-up'.


not counselor

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).


lowercase. For example, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.


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


not dietician


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

emergency department 

not A&E. Use emergency department (ED). It can be referred to as the ED if the full term is already mentioned on the same page.


use ‘same as’


one third, not 1/3


not free phone

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’)


not HSE Live



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.


Use 'the menopause' except for page titles.


lower case


not life threatening

Over-the-counter medicines

use hyphens


not over-treatment


not papilloma virus


not genitals

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

When using a percentage range, use the % symbol twice. For example, 20% to 30%.


not stool sample, faeces or poop 


service user

lower case

spina bifida

lower case, spina bifida. See also hydrocephalus

substance misuse

not substance abuse


died by suicide, not committed suicide


lower case



use 'talk to your GP', not 'speak to your GP' or 'visit your GP'


upper case


‘for treating’ not ‘in treating’

For example, antiviral medicines are used for treating Cytomegalovirus (CMV)


urinate or urinating, not weeing, wee, going for a pee, going to the toilet

For example, side effects include agitation, excessive sleepiness, constipation and difficulty urinating


vagina not genitals

whether or if

prioritise using ‘if’ unless using ‘whether or not’ (conditional).


 Use if here:

 The GP didn't know whether the patient would arrive on Friday.

 The GP didn't know if the patient would arrive on Friday.


Use whether here:

 Call the GP if you are going to arrive on Friday.

 Call the GP whether or not you are going to arrive on Friday.


Don’t capitalise unless referring to a specific department