Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “medicines”

Drugs and Supplements from MedlinePlus

Drugs and Supplements from MedlinePlus – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What medications are likely to produce double vision?
  • Why might someone be treated with ganciclovir?
  • Can dandelions be helpful in treating liver disease?
  • What are the side effects of Tolcapone, a Parkinson’s disease drug?


This section of MedlinePlus deals with information about over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions drugs, vitamins and health supplements. This page divides into two paths, one for drugs and one for vitamins and supplements.

Drugs – This section is browseable by drug name. Each entry contains the following sections:

  • Why is this medication prescribed?
  • How should this medicine be used?
  • Other uses for this medicine
  • What special precautions should I follow?
  • What special dietary instructions should I follow?
  • What should I do if I forget a dose?
  • What side effects can this medication cause?
  • What storage conditions are needed for this medicine?
  • In case of emergency/overdose what other information should I know?
  • Brand names

Vitamins/Supplements – This section is browseable by name of supplement. Most entries contain the following sections:

  • What is it?
  • How effective is it?
  • How does it work?
  • Are there safety concerns?
  • Are there interactions with medications?
  • Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
  • Are there interactions with foods?
  • What dose is used?
  • Other names
  • Methodology
  • References

Search Tips:

Searching for desired side effects:

Sometimes a writer would like to give someone a particular side effect. Searching for a side effect in Medlineplus info can be done through Google. The format would be:

“dread side effect here” inurl:medlineplus/druginfo/meds – Drugs
“dread side effect here” inurl:medlineplus/druginfo/natural – Supplements

For example, a search for “double vision” inurl:medlineplus/druginfo/meds in Google would pull up a list of 79 medications including Lamotrigine, Topiramate and Dicyclomine that can cause double vision as a side effect.

Bear in mind that if your character isn’t some odd sort of recreational drug user, he’ll need to have the disease the medicine treats. For example, if she’s taking Lamotrigine, then she is being treated for epilepsy.

If you don’t want your character to have the primary disease the medicine is intended to treat, you could have them using it for an “off label” usage. Within limits, doctors are allowed to prescribe any medicine for any condition, though it is not usual to do so. You can read more about off label usage on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off-label_use.

Just in case this isn’t obvious, this use of Google to mine MedlinePlus drug info could also be used to find medicines that treat particular diseases, or other information contained in the fact sheets.

Copyright warning

For whatever reason, the National Library of Medicine, the producers of MedlinePlus chose to use copyright protected information for their drugs and supplement information. Drug information is licensed from The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc and supplement information is licensed from Therapeutic Research Faculty, publishers of Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. What this means to you is that you shouldn’t reproduce entire fact sheets in your books. Should be ok to mention a side effect or two. If you simply must have a factsheet, contact the copyright holders and not the National Library of Medicine.


MedlinePlus Health Topics

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

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some symptoms of bladder cancer?
  • What happens during an acupuncture session?
  • What challenges might someone with ADHD face in enlisting in the US military?


In the beginning there was Medline, a medical indexing and abstracting service from the National Library of Medicine. It was aimed at doctors, but once it went on the Internet, patients and other laymen got hold of it and tried to make sense of the very technical medical articles. Sometimes they succeeded, more often they did not.

Enter MedlinePlus, a patient/layman oriented resource that starts with plain English resources and links out to other resources, some general and some technical. I and many of my librarian colleagues agree that MedlinePlus ought to be your first stop for medical information on the Internet. It’s authoritative information with no hidden sales agenda.

MedlinePlus has a number of different sections, each worthy of its own entry. This entry concerns their Health Topics page, where according to the website, “Read about symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention for over 900 diseases, illnesses, health conditions and wellness issues. MedlinePlus health topics are regularly reviewed, and links are updated daily.”

The page gives you a number of ways to browse health topics: Alphabetically, Body Location/System, Disorders and Conditions, Diagnosis and Therapy, Demographic Groups and, Health and Wellness.

All of the topic pages lead to a list of more specific topics, in the case of the Body Location/System pages, there will be an illustration of the Body Location/System you have chosen.

For a given disease topic, such as Gout, you’ll find a page with the following sections:

  • Condition summary (in a blue box) – Will also provide opportunity to get e-mail updates to this topic page and may offer one or two starting points.
  • Links to related articles in the MedlinePlus Medical Encylopedia
  • Related MedlinePlus topics
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) unit with primary research responsibility
  • Alternative languages, when available. The Gout page is also available in Arabic and Spanish.
  • Basics (Overviews, Diagnosis/Symptoms, Treatment)
  • Learn More (Nutrition, Related Issues)
  • Multimedia & Cool Tools (Pictures, Tutorials, Video)
  • Research (Clinical trials, Genetics, Journal Articles)
  • Reference Shelf (Dictionaries [maybe this is directories?], Organizations, Statistics)
  • For You (Demographic group, Patient Handouts)

Nondisease health topics will look pretty similar except the subheadings under Basics, Learn More, Multimedia & Cool Tools, Research, Reference Shelf and For You might look a little different.

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