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Empowered by Internet Research

  [ 26 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By John W. Addington • • September 24, 2001

"Knowledge is power." That statement made over 400 years ago by an English philosopher can be key to regaining control of one's world, savaged by CFS or FM. Detailed knowledge about your condition can imbue a sense of order. Treatment options can lead to both physical and emotional relief.

A great place to turn for such information is the Internet. But where do you go on the web, and which sites can you trust? Familiarity with an organization's experience and reputation may bolster confidence in their web site. Many feel that way regarding the vast resources found at But there are other free and reliable Internet sources that complement and may likewise empower you. This article reviews three such sites from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

MEDLINEplus is a consumer-oriented resource for current and authoritative health information. The site includes an illustrated medical encyclopedia, a medication database, and health comprehensive dictionaries.

At MEDLINEplus, drug information is specifically prepared for patients. The site provides information on side effects, dosing, drug interactions, precautions and storage for more than 9000 different drugs.

Links to a number of medical dictionaries and glossaries at MEDLINEplus can be a tremendous asset in understanding complex medical topics. Some are comprehensive; others are specific to a one subject. For instance from the Health Topics "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" page you will find a link to a glossary containing over 130 medical terms unique to that ailment.

But what if you think a recent rash may indicate you have Lyme's Disease? Links from MEDLINEplus will direct you to useful medical image resources with pictures of actual Lyme's Disease bull's eye rashes.

To initiate research at MEDLINEplus choose from the home page's main headings and then browse. Or you may want to use the site's search engine. Try the Advanced Search feature linked from the home page as this allows you to search the main areas of this service separately or simultaneously. Easy to understand instructions on how to form queries are provided at the bottom of that page.

Researching the hormonal implications of CFS can illustrate MEDLINEplus's benefits. Perhaps you have read the articles at on this subject and want to learn more. Click the MEDLINEplus main heading, "Health Topics" and browse the alphabetical listing to find the topic "Endocrine Diseases (General)." Or select "MEDLINEplus Health Topics and News" as the area to search from the Advanced Search page and use "endocrine" or "hormone" as your query. At the "Endocrine Diseases" page there are links for 1) general discussions, 2) diagrams of the endocrine system, 3) ongoing clinical trials involving hormonal imbalances, and 4) services to locate an endocrinologist locally.

PubMed (
PubMed is a comprehensive resource for medical research. This database indexes over 4000 medical and health science journals. Full text is not provided but if the article was published with an abstract (summary), this is included. These abstracts may be all you need to answer a specific question. Bear in mind that the abstracts are written primarily for medical professionals and can be fairly complex.

The search interface on PubMed's home page is designed for novices. Search terms entered will be run against various fields of information for each article (title, author, journal name, abstract, etc.). When a query is run you are provided title, authors, and citation for each entry in the results list.

To get more details about your results, such as abstracts, check the box next to the articles you are interested in. Then select "Abstract" from the "Display" drop down menu and click "Display." To display the abstract from only one of the search results, click the list of authors' names for that article.

If one of the articles in your search results seems much closer to what you are looking for than the others, select "Related Articles." This will look for articles close in all respects to the selected article. Or, if you see that a particular author's name comes up often in your results, you can search for all articles by that person. In the query box enter the last name first and then first and middle name initials without periods or commas (for example: "Smith WR").

Since PubMed aims to please professional medical researchers it allows some sophisticated search capabilities. But even for non-professionals such features as "Clinical Queries" or "Limits" may be worth trying. "Clinical Queries" can be accessed by clicking on that title in the side bar on most PubMed pages. Choose either "therapy," "diagnosis" or "prognosis" to restrict a "chronic fatigue syndrome" query to that aspect of the ailment.

"Limits" allows you to enter language, gender, age or date restrictions on the search. For instance you can limit a query with the words "fibromyalgia" and "hydrocortisone" to English articles published in the last six months. If you register for a free PubMed service called "Cubby," you can then save that query and rerun it periodically. This would be one way to keep up to date on a specific treatment.

Gateway (
Another U.S. National Library of Medicine medical research service is called "Gateway." The name is derived from its single interface to the following research categories:
· Journal Citations (PubMed)
· Books/Serials/Avs (Health related books and audiovideo materials)
· Consumer Health (MedlinePlus)
· Meeting Abstracts (health meeting/seminar abstracts)
· Other Collections (health research, projects, grants, and organizations)
You can search some of these services separately at their individual websites, but it saves time to search them all at once with Gateway. Additionally, as noted below, Gateway allows you to e-mail the results, a provision not available from PubMed or MedlinePlus.
Since this service was designed with consumers and Internet novices in mind it is fairly user-friendly. Simply enter the topic you are interested in and select "Search." If you want your search to be restricted to a particular field, type that field in brackets after your term. (Example: Fibromyalgia [title] or Teitelbaum [author]) Phrases should be put in quotes. (Example: "chronic fatigue syndrome")

The query is run against multiple databases/categories, as outlined above. You are then presented with a list indicating how many matching finds there are in each category. For example when the query "fibromyalgia" was run the results were as follows:
1) 2438 Journal Citations
2) 63 Books/Serials/Avs
3) 7 Consumer Health matches
4) 11 Meeting Abstracts
5) 3 Other Collections matches
For each results category a choice is provided of "Display Results" or "Details of Search." Selecting "Display Results" produces a separate citation list with the results for the category chosen.

"Details of Search" provides a means to save your search (not the results, just the query). When this feature is selected the query is translated to an Internet language "URL" that can be saved in your browser as a bookmark or favorite. This is particularly helpful for complicated queries you wish to run at regular intervals.

"Display Results" for the Journal Citations category of our "Fibromyalgia" query produces a similar list as would that query in PubMed. Thus only available in this category is the PubMed feature "Related Articles."

After choosing "Display Results," the resulting list for that category can be expanded. Clicking on a specific result produces more details including an abstract summary if available. Alternately you can chose "Download or Display" at the top right of the search results. This allows you to display more details for multiple results simultaneously. You can also e-mail the results instantly to anyone from the "Download or Display" options.

The quantity of results in the "Books" category of our Gateway "fibromyalgia" query, 63, was interesting. While "fibromyalgia" was a primary topic of many of the books, in others it was only a secondary issue.

The "Meeting Abstracts" database is not comprehensive. That may explain why only 11 results were returned in this category, with only 2 them having Fibromyalgia as the central theme. However, even the meetings where fibromyalgia was not the main topic could provide a useful lead depending the issue at hand.

Likewise, depending on the purpose of your research the "Display Results" for "Other Collections" might be of value. It included a behavior modification/education Fibromyalgia study currently in progress in San Diego.

Two other Gateway features, "Limits" and "Locker," are worth knowing about as well. Choosing "Limits" from under the search box allows you to restrict your search by category, date or language. For instance you could look only in the "books" category for English language publications released since the year 2000 dealing with "chronic pain."

Once a query is run, the results can be saved in your "Locker." At a later time, you could reenter the "Locker" and download or print these results. You must register to use the "Locker" but registration and use are free.

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