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Evaluating Health Information

Millions of consumers get health information from magazines, TV or the Internet. Some of the information is reliable and up to date; some is not. How can you tell the good from the bad?

First, consider the source. If you use the Web, look for an "about us" page. Check to see who runs the site: Is it a branch of the government, a university, a health organization, a hospital or a business? Focus on quality. Does the site have an editorial board? Is the information reviewed before it is posted? Be skeptical. Things that sound too good to be true often are. You want current, unbiased information based on research.

NIH: National Library of Medicine

Health Literacy

What is health literacy?

Health literacy involves the information that people need to be able to make good decisions about health. There are two parts:

  • Personal health literacy is about how well a person can find and understand the health information and services that they need. It is also about using the information and services to make good health decisions.
  • Organizational health literacy is about to how well organizations help people find the health information and services that they need. It also includes helping them use that information to make good health decisions.
Which factors can affect health literacy?

Many different factors can affect a person's health literacy, including their

  • Knowledge of medical words
  • Understanding of how the health care system works
  • Ability to communicate with health care providers
  • Ability to find health information, which may require computer skills
  • Reading, writing, and number skills
  • Personal factors, such as age, income, education, language abilities, and culture
  • Physical or mental limitations

Many of the same people who are at risk for limited health literacy also have health disparities. Health disparities are health differences between different groups of people. These groups may be based on age, race, gender, or other factors.

Why is health literacy important?

Health literacy is important because it can affect your ability to

  • Make good decisions about your health
  • Get the medical care you need. This includes preventative care, which is care to prevent disease.
  • Take your medicines correctly
  • Manage a disease, especially a chronic disease
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle

One thing that you can do is to make sure that you communicate well with your health care providers. If you don't understand something a provider tells you, ask them to explain it to you so that you understand. You can also ask the provider to write down their instructions.

Personal Health Records

You've probably seen your chart at your doctor's office. In fact, you may have charts at several doctors' offices. If you've been in the hospital, you have a chart there, too. These charts are your medical records. They may be on paper or electronic. To keep track of all this information, it's a good idea to keep your own personal health record.

What kind of information would you put in a personal health record? You could start with

  • Your name, birth date, blood type, and emergency contact information
  • Date of last physical
  • Dates and results of tests and screenings
  • Major illnesses and surgeries, with dates
  • A list of your medicines and supplements, the dosages, and how long you've taken them
  • Any allergies
  • Any chronic diseases
  • Any history of illnesses in your family

Family History

Your family history includes health information about you and your close relatives. Families have many factors in common, including their genes, environment, and lifestyle. Looking at these factors can help you figure out whether you have a higher risk for certain health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Having a family member with a disease raises your risk, but it does not mean that you will definitely get it. Knowing that you are at risk gives you a chance to reduce that risk by following a healthier lifestyle and getting tested as needed.

You can get started by talking to your relatives about their health. Draw a family tree and add the health information. Having copies of medical records and death certificates is also helpful.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Diabetes Type 2

Diabetes means your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can lead to serious problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth.

You have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you are older, have obesity, have a family history of diabetes, or do not exercise. Having prediabetes also increases your risk. Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, you may be able to delay or prevent developing it by making some lifestyle changes.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes appear slowly. Some people do not notice symptoms at all. The symptoms can include

  • Being very thirsty
  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very hungry or tired
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Having sores that heal slowly
  • Having blurry eyesight

Blood tests can show if you have diabetes. One type of test, the A1C, can also check on how you are managing your diabetes. Many people can manage their diabetes through healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing. Some people also need to take diabetes medicines.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases