[ Issue 15 ]

Medicine fascinates Emily Bronto

Bikwil is pleased to present Medicine


In his Web Line column for Issue 15 Tony Rogers explores some sites devoted to medicine.

He concludes with a famous warning on hypochondria — from Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

The risky tendency illustrated in this quote remains as true now as it did when it first appeared in 1889, despite the changes in information technology

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


Tricky business, this. How do you demonstrate what a wealth of beneficial medical advice there is to be found on the Internet without running the risk of advocating self-diagnosis and non-professional treatment?

In The Sydney Morning Herald’s computer supplement Icon of 19 July 1997 there was a very pertinent article on this question. “If good information is the best medicine, bad information can be lethal”. Several expert bodies were quoted cautioning against the dangers of “false hopes and cures” starting to proliferate on the Net.

For instance, the Association of Genetic Support of Australasia warns: “Remember that any smart 15-year-old kid or quack doctor can design a sharp-looking home page on the network and start giving medical advice. No-one monitors the Net for junk of this type.”

And after it found four companies doing some Internet selling of prescription drugs without providing medical details, the World Health Organisation made sure it issued an alert about “the advertising, promotion and uncontrolled sale of medical products through the Internet”. The drugs in question were things like anti-acne drugs known to cause birth defects, chemotherapy concoctions and morning-after pills.

All that said, here are a few sites that have impressed me during my explorations on behalf of relatives and friends over the past three years. But lest you think I know a lot of weirdly afflicted types please remember that when you get to my age, you seem more and more to be talking to people about morbidity, if not mortality.

You must make up your own mind, though, as you examine them. In other words, be very circumspect. Visitor beware.

Incidentally, I don’t want to get into the merits or otherwise of naturopathy, homoeopathy, New Age treatments, etc., so all I’m mentioning here a few sites where the approach is reasonably traditional, despite the comparative rarity of some of the ailments.

To Sleep, Perchance to Snore * is the name of a serious article at the (American) ABC News site. Not funny, say the experts, since some types of snoring can be dangerous, especially if sleep apnea is indicated. Sleep apnea is irregular air flow during sleep, where the throat becomes blocked and breathing is stopped for short periods — up to hundreds of times a night. Apart from leaving you sleepy the next day, it can put a serious strain on your heart because not enough oxygen is getting through.

Indeed, the snoring feature was a link from a site devoted to all things related to sleep, The Sleep Well, prepared by Stanford Uni. As well as snoring, there are subpages on dreams, sleep disorders, children’s sleep, the Epworth sleepiness test, how to sleep well, together with links and literature references.

Sometimes a person’s sleep is severely disturbed by their restless legs. The Restless Legs Syndrome site, devoted to “the most common disorder you’ve never heard of”, has been known since the 17th century, though it is still not completely understood.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder characterized by unusual sensations that occur typically deep within the legs, occasionally in the arms and infrequently in other body parts. These sensations compel the sufferer to move the affected extremity to achieve relief. Because RLS is worse during the evening and at night, it can lead to severe insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness.

RLS can be idiopathic (without a known cause) or can be related to an underlying condition such as iron deficiency, renal failure or peripheral neuropathy. RLS may also occur during pregnancy, but the symptoms generally resolve with delivery.

A related disorder, periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS) or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), is characterized by episodes of jerking of the limbs during sleep and sometimes while awake.

This RLS site contains patient information, a newsletter, information on support groups, and a list of other sources. And, quite properly, the usual disclaimer.

Women’s Health consists of a list of links to many other places on the Net that cover health issues for women, but is no less a useful one for all that. It is an essential place to start your research on:

breast cancer
health care for seniors

The page is actually part of a larger general site on Internet resources for women.

Ex-smoker Blair Price runs a “kick-the-habit” page, Blair’s Quitting Smoking Resources (designed by ChrisCor Web Design, a firm specialising in health web sites), that claims to be “the most popular quitting smoking web site on the Internet” (over 750 visitors a day). It’s not hard to see why. For starters, it’s updated three to four times a week — remarkable for a non-news service or non-bookstore. Its content includes generous info on overcoming smoking, the benefits of quitting, tools and books to help you. There are also links to other sites on the topic, plus a chat room.

A most informative site, containing or referring to material on the physical and psychological aspects of smoking addiction alike.

Moving now completely to the psychological realm, let’s drop in on Mental Health Net, sponsored by CMHC Systems. This is a “review guide to mental health, psychology and psychiatry online”, which is updated weekly and lists over 7,000 individual resources. Vast amounts of information is thus available to you on topics like:

various disorders (abuse, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia . . .)
book references, including the full text of the Self-Help Sourcebook
discussion forums
advice columns
database searching facilities
news articles
opinion polls
question of the month

A site devoted to depression is Dr. Ivan’s Depression Central. (he’s a New York psychiatrist.)

This site is Internet’s central clearing house for information on all types of depressive disorders and on the most effective treatments for individuals suffering from major depression, Manic-Depression (Bipolar Disorder), Cyclothymia, Dysthymia and other mood disorders.

To list its contents list of over 50 topics would be impressive, but space wasting. I offer here just a few of the entries:

introduction to mood disorders
children and adoloscents
the elderly
famous people with mood disorders
research studies
seasonal affective disorder
substance abuse
virus-induced depression

Highly recommended, with over half a million visitors since 1/1/96.

Inevitably, all the above sites have been American, but to conclude, here is an Aussie one — ADF: Anxiety Disorders Foundation of Australia (NSW Branch) Inc. The Foundation was formed in South Australia in 1992 by a group of consumers and mental health professionals. Its mission is “to create awareness of appropriate treatments in individuals with anxiety disorders so they can achieve self mastery leading to recovery.”

After a brief exposition on common misunderstandings (“the worried well”, “nerves”, “highly strung”), it moves at once to some definitions designed to distinguish the various disorder types — general anxiety disorder, specific phobias, including agoraphobia, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia and panic disorder.

Also provided at this site is the complete text of every issue of the Branch’s semi-annual Newsletter, going back to its first, in 1996. Equally helpful is its large number of links to other Web sites on anxiety (about 50), together with the text of various relevant articles. There is also a list of similar organisations in other States.

If perchance, despite my forewarnings, you are still rash enough to see the Net as a substitute for a good doctor, I have included below a most salutary extract from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, one of my favourite books of all time. The risky tendency illustrated in this quote remains as true now as it did when it first appeared in 1889, despite the changes in information technology.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch — hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into — some fearful, devastating scourge, I know and, before I had glanced half down the list of 'premonitory symptoms', it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for a while frozen with horror; and then in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever — read the symptoms — discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it — wondered what else I had got; turned up St Vitus's Dance — found, as I expected, that I had that too — began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically — read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need 'to walk the hospitals', if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.

Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.

I walked into that reading-room a happy healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

— Extract on hypochondria from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat

* Note:
Since this article was first published in 1999,
To Sleep, Perchance to Snore
seems to have vanished from the Internet

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