Research key in understanding ailments

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— The diagnosis of a medical condition can seem overwhelming at first.

Suddenly, you need to know about treatment options, expected outcomes and the potential impact on your family and friends.

When you're the patient, there's no substitute for discussing your condition with your physician. But you can enhance your quest for knowledge by doing some research on your own. Becoming well-informed can help you make solid decisions. And when the diagnosis involves someone else such as your sister, your father or your friend you may want to understand as much as you can about what your loved one is going through.

Yampa Valley Medical Center's Community Health Resource Center is a good place to begin. This library has about 400 books on a variety of medical subjects from alternative medicine to pain control to wellness.

The center is staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers who will carry out searches for you if you make a request. There is no charge for this service or for checking out books, journals or videos. A computer with Internet service is available for those who prefer to search for themselves. Several CD-ROMs have been installed on the computer to aid in searches for many medical conditions.

Some books are inspirational, having been written by people who have coped with and survived their disease. Dr. Robert Pensack's story is told in "Raising Lazarus." This book tells the dramatic tale of this Steamboat Springs resident's lifelong battle with a rare heart condition and his experiences as a recipient of a new heart.

The Bud Werner Memorial and Colorado Mountain College libraries also are sources of help. On the shelves you will be able to find in-depth information on many health issues. You also have access to past and current copies of newspapers, which often describe up-to-date medical news and advances.

One excellent source for information is the Merck Manual of Medical Information. This encyclopedia gives a concise, detailed description of the most common medical conditions and recommended treatments. A companion volume, the Merck Manual of Geriatrics, provides information specifically related to the elderly. Both the Bud Werner Library and the hospital's resource center have the Merck Manuals.

A wealth of information is available on the Internet, but not all of it is reliable. The Medical Library Association recommends that you consider the following questions when considering a site:

Who is sponsoring the Web site? Generally you will get the most reliable information from sites sponsored by the government or independent organizations such as a university, hospital or well-known clinic.

How current is the site? A good site will be updated regularly to keep you informed of recent advances.

Is the information factual or opinion? Facts about conditions or diseases can be helpful. Medical advice or opinions should be clearly noted. You should never use the advice to diagnose or treat a condition on your own.

If you would like a more personal contact in your search for information, consider getting in touch with a support group for people who share a similar medical condition. Steamboat Today regularly lists the meeting times of support groups in the Yampa Valley.

Additionally, there are support Web sites such as the Association of Cancer Online Resources. Patients, caregivers or anyone looking for answers to questions about a disease or condition may subscribe for no charge. Another example is bmt-talk@listserv.org. This site is for individuals who may be eligible for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Although the sources listed here may provide you with helpful information, remember you should never treat a medical condition on your own. Your best source of medical advice will always be from your family physician.

Nancy S. Bretz is coordinator of the Community Health Resource Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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