How To Find Credible Information About IBD


How To Find Credible Information About IBD

Woman Typing On Keyboard
Have you become a master researcher? Having a chronic illness fuels the need for more, and credible, information about your disease and related conditions. Image © lukajani / E+ / Getty Images

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is difficult to understand, with even brilliant medical scientists unable to find a cause or a cure. IBD is a lifelong condition that brings with it many questions, including difficult ones regarding treatment. There are several treatments available, but they vary widely in everything from how they are taken to the potential side effects. Surgery is also considered a treatment, and is especially used in Crohn's disease, but it does not offer any absolute certainty of remission, nor is it a cure.

What this adds up to for patients is a lot of choices to be made, usually without too much supporting data behind it. From the moment of diagnosis, there are a host of treatment decisions to be made. Of course, the gastroenterologist will help guide the treatment process, but that doesn't mean that patients can sit back and absolve themselves from learning more about their disease. To be an effective partner in the process, patients will want to be better educated about IBD. The pitfall, however, is that it can be difficult to find credible sources of information that are readily understandable. The good news is that once patients know what to look for, good sources of information about IBD can provide help when it's time to research a symptom or treatment.


Finding Reputable Authors

It used to be easy to know who wrote something because bylines were important in newspapers and magazines. Online has offered wonderful opportunities for the sharing of information, but care must be taken to ensure that it's honest and credible. Image © Kia Abell

The first test of an article or other piece of information is to look at the author. First and foremost — it should be clear who authored the article. There should be a name (a byline) or at least an acknowledgement that the article was written by a staff member of the magazine or the web site. In the case of an article that was written by staff, many times there will be a medical reviewer or a collaborator listed, which is helpful. Authors should not only be clearly identified, but they should have some credentials that explain why you should trust their information. If it is medical information, there should be a degreed professional at least reviewing the work. Be on the lookout for authors that use an honorific but who don't actually have a related medical degree. 


Watch For Diagnosing Over The Internet

Doctor Answering Phones
Physicians don't typically diagnose over the Internet, though telemedicine is a viable solution for many minor medical concerns. Image © Jetta Productions / Blend Images / Getty Images

The rise of telemedicine has offered patients a convenient way to contact a physician over the phone, or via a teleconference using a computer or a smart phone. This can be a real help to a parent in the middle of the night or for someone who can't make it to an appointment, but it's not a substitute for a long-term relationship with a gastroenterologist who has experience in treating IBD. Question and answer columns are also very popular, but they can only provide information, and shouldn't be used in lieu of specific advice from a qualified professional. A reputable physician (or other healthcare professional) wouldn't diagnose a patient or recommend treatment changes to a patient with IBD without having a working doctor-patient relationship.


Get To The Source

Journal of the American College of Cardiology
One used to have to hit the books for good information. Many journals are now online, and are still a best bet for doing research about medical conditions, including IBD. Image © Alex Furr

Credible web sites will provide links or references to their source of information and will plainly label any content that is reprinted from another site. Facts and figures especially should be backed up by sources such as a research paper or a government report. Research papers are often found in medical journals such as those that are put out by medical societies. They are also published online by the National Institutes of Health via the US National Library of Medicine at PubMed. When a media outlet publishes a story about the results of the recent study, you should be able to go and read the study, or at least the abstract, for yourself. Journalists get facts wrong all the time, or can easily misinterpret the results of a study. A respected journalist will not make you dig for the facts, but will plainly label sources. By checking the original information (often called a primary source) can you get the true story for yourself.

One caveat: not all study abstracts published on PubMed are from quality research. Older research that has sometimes been debunked are there, right next to groundbreaking studies. Watch for the year in which the study was published, as newer research is going to typically reflect current thinking on a topic. Also watch for studies that go against what's already been accepted by the medical community about IBD, or studies that come to a conclusion that no other, similar studies share.

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