We have all done it, haven’t we? We feel a little out of sorts and turn to Google so we can solve our health ailments. Whether it is a sneeze or a weird bump on the skin, the results yielded can be scary as we are flooded with one scary possibility after another. The good news is that there are many safe and reliable ways to gather information about your own health through the digital world. Conducting research through trusted sources is a valuable tool when it comes to maintaining your health. In conjunction with advice from a trusted doctor, learning how to research and ask questions about personal health goals and challenges is an excellent way to take control of your body. Here are five tips to research your own health, and plus a list of important questions to ask your doctor.
Learn your family history
You can’t change what has been handed down to you genetically, but practicing healthy lifestyle choices encourages the maintenance of good health. Most families share genes, but even if you don’t, lifestyle habits and the living environment also impact health outcomes between relatives. Signs that genetics influence specific health problems include:
- The same disease or ailment in more than one family member
- The health issue is not limited to one gender
- People in several generations have had the same health problem (this can be figured out by researching ancestors)
You can further piece this information together by looking at the ages of relatives who have passed away and learning about the causes of death through death certificates and family medical records if they are available. When health issues run in families, it is important to ask a physician about pre-screening tests and what lifestyle changes you can make to lessen your risk of diseases that run in the family.
Where to find health information
Starting with Google is a great way to gather information, but what websites provide the most accurate information? Peer-reviewed journals, government websites, and hospitals will have the most up-to-date information about health. Peer-reviewed journals are written by experts in specific fields, but you may have to gain access to them through a public or university library. Google Scholar also has some free access to peer-reviewed journals. The National Institutes of Health and Medline Plus (run by NIH) contains free health information that can be accessed by anyone. Hospitals that regularly publish new information include the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic. It is also worth checking into your local hospital to see if they have specialized health information for your region. Finding sources about health topics is beneficial in that it helps you to generate questions to ask your personal physician.
Articulate a research question
The key to finding the best research is formulating a specific question and generating keywords that can be used with that question. A quick Google search of the words “heart disease” yields 481,000,000 results! Changing that search to “Does heart disease run in families?” cuts down those results to 251,000,000 hits. While that is still a lot, it is a start to fine-tuning those keywords.
Research the author
“I found the information, but how do I know if it’s accurate?” Good question. When doing any kind of research, it is important to not only know where it is from but to scope out the author. These days it is typically pretty easy to find out information about an author through LinkedIn, biographies that are listed on university websites, or a summary of the author’s work within the source. Examine what health topics the author has contributed to and researched in the last five years.
Double check the date
How old is your source? A source that is too old won’t be very useful to your research unless you are looking for a trend that has been in progress for years. Generally speaking, medical information should be researched with date constraints in a five-year time span, because it can become outdated quickly.
Ask your doctor
Finally, after gathering all of the information that you can in support of your health, it is time to ask a physician for guidance. Consider the questions below to start with when searching for a snapshot of your health and wellness.
- What is my blood pressure?
- What are my cholesterol levels?
- Do I need any vaccines?
- What lifestyle changes do I need to make to support my health?
- What tests do I need to screen for potential health issues?
- My family history shows evidence for a specific disease. What precautions can I take?
- How is my overall health for my age?
- Will my supplements or alcohol interact with medications I am taking?
- What internet sources can I trust when researching my health?
- Do I need to visit more frequently because of something that runs in my family?