When I developed swelling on one side of my face recently, and then I broke out in a rash, I did something I wouldn’t have done ten years before – I went online and tried to research what my symptoms meant.
It took me only a few minutes to decide that I had the virus known as Shingles, and that self-diagnosis was confirmed when I went to my family doctor the next day.
Five or ten years ago I probably would have waited a few more days till the symptoms got worse, then visited my doctor. The problem is, the severity of a Shingles attack can be lessened greatly if you get the proper anti-viral medication soon after the outbreak. If you wait too long the medicine is less effective, and you can have a more severe attack.
My case is minor, but imagine how many lives have been saved by people researching a serious medical condition online, and deciding to get treatment right away? The amount of solid, reliable medical information on the Internet is staggering, and it’s nothing short of miraculous, I believe. Ten years ago, before most of these sites were available, patients were completely in the dark about their medical conditions, and had to rely on doctors, who are notorious for not speaking in language that laypeople can understand.
Anyone who has even the simplest medical question should do some research on the Internet. Caution: Web site research should never take the place of a visit to a doctor, but it can certainly make you better prepared if and when you do visit a doctor for an evaluation.
But which are the best sites? There are literally hundreds of Health & Wellness sites, and you need to be sure you’re using a credible one, when it comes to such important issues as your health.
Here are my layman’s picks of five popular, reliable sites to start your research. They’re high-traffic sites that are staffed by medical experts.
- WebMD. My favorite feature here is the Symptom Checker, where you can click on parts of a male or female figure and get lists of symptoms, which you can research further. There are “health centers” for common medical ailments like back pain, articles about healthy living, medical headlines, message boards, an “Ask The Experts” feature, polls and surveys, slideshows, and much more.
- MayoClinic.com. Run by the world-famous Mayo Clinic, this site has “Find It Fast”, a quick way to look up a disease or medical condition. You can also click on a disease or condition on the home page and go to a portal with information about it. You can ask questions of a Mayo Clinic specialist, get tips on healthy living, read medical blogs, and watch videos about health.
- MedicineNet.com. At this site you can click on topics (“Diseases & Conditions”, “Symptoms & Signs”, etc.), read newsletters, browse discussions where patients talk about their conditions and treatment, test your Health IQ, check symptoms, and read true stories from patients and doctors.
- Everyday Health. This site is easy to use, and full of useful information about health topics. There are articles about diet and exercise, common health problems, recipes for healthy cooking, and more. There’s a Toolkit with items like a Weight Tracker, Calorie Calculator, and Meal Planner. There’s a video library, a discussion board, recipe database, and much more.
- Drugs.com. Calls itself “the most popular, comprehensive, and up-to-date source of drug information online”. There is an A to Z drug list, a way to look up drugs that are prescribed for various conditions, a pill identifier, FDA drug alerts, information about drug side effects, daily news about the pharmaceutical industry, a list of the top 100 drugs by sales, and much more.
These are some of the most popular and useful medical sites on the Web. As I said, you should always check with your doctor about any medical condition, but if you visit these sites you’ll be much better informed and able to take a more proactive approach to your medical care.