Find Good Medical Advice on the Web

Spiderowych asked the Answer Line Forum to recommend medical information Web sites.

Maintaining a healthy mind and body takes considerably more effort than maintaining a healthy computer--and it's a lot more important. Although nothing on the Internet can replace regular checkups with a medical professional, the right Web sites can help you find quick answers to your medical questions, walk through symptoms to figure out what you have, provide tips for a healthy lifestyle, and find out more about your prescription medications.

Here are a few sites worth looking at:

WebMD:There's a lot to like about this popular, all-around medical information site. Slideshows, such as this one on weight loss, offer tips on staying healthy. The Symptom Checker wizard helps you describe what hurts and suggests possible causes. You can search for any drug and find information on it.

But my medical adviser (and sister-in-law), Dr. Vicky Prager, MD, wasn't as impressed. Although she acknowledged that it can be helpful, she found that it concentrated too much on eye-grabbing headlines and sensationalist stories. (Click the image on the right and you'll see what she means.)

The Free Dictionary: This dictionary search engine contains a special medical dictionary, which provides definitions from The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary and Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Care Consumers. The definitions are generally concise and clear, and impressed Dr. Prager with their accuracy.

Mayo Clinic:The famous research group gears its site mostly to medical professionals and students, but it also provides useful health information for laypeople. Here you can look up diseases, symptoms, drugs (and herbal supplements), and even first aid instructions. Like WebMD, it provides all-around medical advice, but it comes off more as a serious advisor than a splashy entertainer.

American Heart Association:

If you're mostly worried about your ticker, this is the site to visit. Here you can read up on high blood pressure, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems, as well as the lifestyle choices that affect them.

Wikipedia: You already know about this one--the first site people go to to look up just about anything. Yes, it has a reputation for questionable accuracy, but not everyone agrees with that reputation. Dr. Prager told me that she's "Always amazed at how much valuable stuff is there."

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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