Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Diseases for your character with MedlinePlus

MedlinePlus Health Topics Page – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthtopics.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What’s a lung disorder I could give to a character?
  • What are some cancers where vaginal bleeding is a symptom?
  • What conditions are associated with Sciatica?


The MedlinePlus Health Topics page has been described elsewhere.  I’m mentioning it again for its specific use in gathering information on diseases that might befall your character.

Search Tips:

If you have a specific disease in mind, I’d suggest either using the alphabetical browse or using the search box in the upper right hand of the screen. If you choose the search, you’ll be searching all of MedlinePlus, not just the Health Topics pages. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it’s just more clutter.

If you’re not sure what disease to give your character, there are two ways to go. First would be to explore the body location/systems offerings or a given demographic group (i.e. do you want them to have a lung disorder or something that particularly affects seniors?)

The second approach would be to click on “symptoms” under “diagnosis and therapy.” You can also get there directly with http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/symptoms.html. You’ll be presented with an alphabetical list of symptoms. Clicking on a symptom will take you to a topic page that will look much like the topics pages I explained in detail the first time. Look at the summary and at the “specific conditions” list under “Learn More.” This may give you ideas of what disease to inflict on your character. Here are a few examples:

  • Edema (tissue swelling) – Can be a symptom of heart failure, kidney diseases, cirrhosis, and lymph node problems, among other issues.
  • Fatigue – Can be a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, brain tumors, Crohn’s Disease and lupus, among other issues.
  • Hives – Can be a symptom of Food allergy, exercise-induced urticaria and sun allergy, among other issues.

Once you’ve located a promising disease, be sure to click on that disease so you’ll know what other symptoms to put on your character and see what treatments and support organizations exist for her condition.

Sun allergy might be good to give to a character who thinks he’s a vampire. The hives and pain from only minimal exposure are enough to make you think you’re a child of the night.


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