Smart Ways to Search Symptoms Online

A reader wants to know: What are the best sources for researching symptoms online? Dr. Zachary Levine shares his expert advice.

Q: Should I research my symptoms on the internet before visiting my doctor?

Dr. Zachary Levine anwers: I think it’s a good idea — but only if you find reliable and useful information. For instance, medical journals can seem an attractive source, but they’re not written for the lay public. So, here are a few pointers to get you started:

— Visit government sites such as Health Canada ( and the Public Health Agency ( Most provinces also have their own sites with health information.

— Hospitals and public health organizations can be useful, as well as a good way to find local resources.

— Not-for-profit groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society ( and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada ( are good places to start.

Finally, beware of sites that make incredible claims (especially if they’re selling a product). Compare the information you read between several different sites and note how recently the sites have been updated. Discussion boards can be helpful and provide support, but one person’s opinion should not be enough for you to base any decisions on. Ultimately, it’s best not to make any significant health choices without discussing them with your doctor, who has the knowledge and experience to help you make a truly informed decision.


Dr. Zachary Levine is an attending physician in the department of emergency medicine at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.