Word of the Week: Intractable

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Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.


How to say itIntractable (in-track-ta-bull)

What it means: Not easy to fix, cure, or relieve.

Where it comes from: From Latin, intractabilis, "unmanagable"

A person with no hair on a hospital bed in blue scrubs looking pained.

Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Where you might see or hear it: If you have pain that does not get better when you take medicine or with other treatments, your doctor might refer to it as being "intractable" because the word means "not easy to relieve."

Some conditions, like epilepsy and migraines, are called intractable when the treatments that usually help do not work. For example, someone with intractable epilepsy may continue to have seizures because the treatment is not enough to stop them.

When you might want to use it: If you have an acute condition, like a gallbladder attack, you might be in a lot of pain that does not get better no matter what you do.

If you go to the emergency room, the provider you see might note that your pain is "intractable" because even when they give you medication, you still are hurting. In this case, you might not feel better until you have your gallbladder taken out.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Merriam-Webster. Definition of intractable.

  2. Etymology Online. Definition of intractable.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Status epilepticus.

  4. National Headache Foundation. Intractable migraine.

  5. Zakko SF. Patient education: Gallstones (beyond the basics).