If you turn to Google before turning to a doctor when you're feeling icky, you're not alone.
Last year, one in three Americans typed their symptoms into search engines and medical websites before seeing their physician, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Searching for medical advice online can never replace a visit to a doctor, but there are ways to weed through the online clutter and get reliable information. Medical experts say you can't trust any single site to always have the best or most up-to-date information on any condition, but some sites are more likely to be helpful than others.
Several doctors recommended MedlinePlus, a website sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and managed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It has easy-to-read and understandable definitions and explanations of diseases, drugs and supplements. Each entry is accompanied by links to other sites and research deemed trustworthy by the medical archivists.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, tells her patients to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov and the American Academy of Pediatrics' website at HealthyChildren.org for peer-reviewed medical information.
If you come across a website with lots of advertising, experts say, take the information with a grain of salt. Some sites tailor the information on their page to please their advertisers.
Also, the Medical Library Association has put together a list of consumer health sites that it has deemed "most useful": mlanet.org/resources/userguide.html.
The vast majority of people who search for health information online go straight to search engines such as Google or Bing for the sake of convenience, the Pew study found. That's fine, but you can help ensure that you get the best information by narrowing your search terms.
For example, type in "cancer, chemotherapy, side effects" rather than just "cancer." Additionally, if you are doing research online before seeing a clinician, keep a digital or paper copy of where you got your information.