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What to Do After Your Diagnosis

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a serious or chronic condition, you likely have a lot of questions about treatment and long-term health.

Some conditions, such as cancer, may have more than one possible treatment. Doing some research on your own can give you enough information to make good decisions, says the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and the Internet provide lots of health information--some of it reliable, some not. The following tips can help you find information on your condition from reputable sources.

Contact health groups

Groups such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Lung Association can provide a wealth of free information. They can also refer you to local chapters that can offer help through support groups.

These organizations have toll-free numbers and Internet sites you can find by visiting http://www.healthfinder.gov.

Visit the library

Ask the librarian to help you find information on your condition in medical and health care journals, reference books, and magazines. But be aware that much of the health information found in general consumer magazines may not be sound or up to date. Make sure the information comes from a reputable source, such as a government, research, or health association.

Get online

You can use the Internet to find good health and treatment information, as long as you are cautious, the AHRQ says.

Many sites provide information that's inaccurate, even dangerous. Make sure the source is medically sound, such as those found at http://www.healthfinder.gov, or an accredited association, such as Mental Health America. Or find a site sponsored by a medical school or university medical center.

You also can search for articles about your illness by visiting the National Library of Medicine's online catalog of medical journal articles.

Finally, visit the website of the National Guideline Clearinghouse, a government-sponsored resource that provides guidelines for the treatment of most common health conditions.

Get a second opinion

If your doctor recommends surgery, chemotherapy, or another treatment with substantial risk, get a second opinion from a surgeon or specialist.

Make an informed decision

After collecting information, meet with your health care provider. Together you can decide on your immediate treatment and how you'll handle long-term management of your condition.

Work with your health care provider on a treatment plan you can stick with, the AHRQ says. You're more likely to stick to your plan if you've taken an active role in determining the details.

Serious illnesses affect people physically, mentally, and emotionally. Asking for support from a variety of sources can help reduce your fear and anxiety, as well as play a role in your successful recovery or management of your condition.

For the maximum benefit, seek help from:

  • Family and friends. Close and supportive family and friends can make a positive impact on your health, especially during a health crisis, the AHRQ says. One way to start is to ask people you're close to for help with specific tasks or problems.

  • Mental health counselor. A counselor or therapist can help you learn to cope with depression, fear, anxiety, and other emotions or issues you're having trouble dealing with. Your doctor can give you a referral, if necessary.

  • Support groups. Joining a group of people with the same condition who get together to discuss their illnesses and share their feelings can help you cope better with the management of your disease. Your doctor, place of worship, or health organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, can help you find an appropriate support group in your area.