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How do I know if the medical information and advice I read about is reliable?
Q: There are so many new medicines and treatments advertised through television, web sites, magazines, and stores — I just don’t know what to believe. How do I know if the information is reliable?
A: Jordan, it is very difficult to know what information you can trust. While there is a lot of good information on health in the media, there is also a lot of misinformation. Here are a few general guidelines to help you evaluate the information you see and hear:

  1. Question whether the source is reliable.

    Reliable sources on health and medicine include professional medical associations (e.g., American Academy of Pediatrics), medical schools (e.g., Harvard Medical School), government health agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control), and nationally recognized disease-specific organizations (e.g., American Lung Association). These educational sources generally aim to provide unbiased health information. On the other hand, companies that have an interest in promoting and selling products may provide health information that is questionable, misleading, biased, or untrue. If you’re searching the internet for health information, look for web sites ending in “.gov” (government), “.edu” (educational institutions) and “.org” (non-profit organizations).
  2. Question whether the information is believable.

    Every medicine or treatment has its strengths and limitations: it only works for certain conditions, it helps some people and not others, and it may have unwanted side effects. Be suspicious of advertisements that state a treatment “works for everyone” and is a “miraculous” or “amazing cure” — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Also, be suspicious of treatments that are advertised as “natural” and “harmless” — medications made from natural sources, such as plants, can sometimes have dangerous side effects. If a medication has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it has not been shown to be safe.
  3. Talk with your doctor.

    If you have any questions about medications or treatments, talk with your doctor. Don’t give your child any medications, even over-the-counter ones, without making sure they are safe and appropriate for your child.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician