Making sense of medical advice and health news
It seems like every day newspapers and websites are giving us new medical advice or plastering their headlines with what we should be doing to live a healthy life.
One source tells us that we should take an aspirin a day to reduce our chances of heart disease while another informs us that too much aspirin will increase our chances of a stroke. So how do we know what to believe and what headlines should we ignore and which should be taken seriously?
Managing the amount of contradicting information was difficult enough before the internet was such a large part of our lives but now with such a vast selection of sources it can be difficult to know what to be believe, especially with so many conflicting opinions.
So the next time you find an article that surprises you, here’s a few things to bear in mind.
Some websites court controversy
The internet has changed the way that many of us now receive our news and the sheer selection of news sites and blogs available has been a liberating way to research and gather information. While this can make researching much easier, however since we don’t pay to access these websites, a lot rely on the amount of views they receive to make their money.
This has ushered in the rise of “click-baiting” articles, where sensationalist headlines, such as outrageous and controversial medical news, are used by many websites to pique readers’ curiosity, which only goes to confuse the research further and makes it harder for us to find the real information.
How well is the research researched?
Some newspapers have trained doctors on staff but chances are most medical articles are written by journalists that are not trained healthcare professionals. Medical research papers are complicated and they can often be misinterpreted.
The results of the research may be presented in the newspaper as definitive conclusions however in reality studies take a long time to compile and the sources that the articles have cited may in fact be very early results presented at conferences or still in trials and testing. They may make good headlines but are still yet to be properly scrutinised and debated by medical professionals.
There are many types of medical trials
The term medical trial carries a lot of weight, we believe of its importance and accuracy because it sounds large, important and official. To get the real picture of every medical trial referenced in a newspaper, we first have to know the number of people that have been included in the testing. For example a test involving 1000 people will generate more accurate results than if only 10 people were used and the article may choose to treat a very small test with the same authority of a much larger and more accurate one.
Also as mentioned above the trial may be in a very early stage and there may not even be any human subjects to begin with, as the experiments may be being conducted on animals or even at a cellular level.
What we can do
So if you do find some medical advice worrying or unsettling from a news source, don’t believe everything you read as it may be looking to entertain rather than educate. But if you do have any concerns you should contact your local GP.
What are your thoughts on medical headlines?
Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor
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