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Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

A Guide for Readers

By Manuals Staff,

The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook, Online Version is organized into sections, chapters, and topics, all of which are listed alphabetically. The names of some chapters and topics have been edited (and may be different from those in the print book) to make alphabetization more relevant. Topics of interest may be quickly located by consulting the index or the list of sections in the left navigation.


Most sections cover the disorders of one organ or organ system, such as those of the eye, skin, or heart and blood vessels. A few sections cover one type of disorder, such as hormonal disorders or infectious diseases. Four separate sections cover health issues of men, women, children, and older people. Introduction covers many general topics important to health care, such as communicating with health care practitioners, prevention of disease and disability, exercise and fitness, rehabilitation, and death and dying. Injuries and Poisoning includes a chapter on first aid. Special Subjects provides an overview of clinical trials, medical decision making, hospital care, surgery, complementary and alternative medicine, and travel and health, among other topics.


Most chapters begin with a brief introduction, which contains background information relating to all the topics in that chapter. Some chapters describe a single disorder. Other chapters cover a group of related disorders. In either case, the discussion of a disorder usually starts with a definition of that disorder in italics, followed by bullets that summarize the disorder. The information that follows is typically organized under headings, such as causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and prognosis. Bold-faced type within the text indicates topics of major importance.

In sections about disorders of an organ or organ system, the first chapter describes the organ's normal structure and function. Reading about how the heart works or looking at illustrations of the heart, for example, may make reading about a specific heart disorder more understandable. Many sections also include a chapter describing symptoms and relevant medical tests.


Full-color Anatomical Drawings help readers locate different parts of the body and see how they relate to each other. The many photographs, videos, and audio materials (Multimedia and Pronunciations) are unique to this online version and are not found in the print book. Individual drugs are almost always referred to by their generic name rather than by their brand or trade names. Drug Names: Generic and Trade contains a table of the generic drugs mentioned in the text along with some of their corresponding trade names, as well as a table of trade names with their corresponding generic name. In addition, rolling over the generic name of a drug in text wil bring up a list of some trade names. Common Medical Tests lists many common diagnostic tests and procedures, explains what they are used for, and provides cross-references to where more detailed discussions of a test or procedure can be found. Resources for Help and Information lists the contact information of many organizations that help people who have specific disorders. These organizations can provide additional information about a disorder or help locate support services.

Readers may also find Selected Links useful, as links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, among others, are provided.

Figures, Sidebars, Tables, and Drug Tables

The many figures, sidebars, and tables help explain material in the text or give additional, related information. Drug tables, marked by an Rx symbol, provide additional information about a class or group of drugs.

Drug Information

Drug doses are not provided because doses can vary greatly, depending on individual circumstances. For example, doses are affected by age, sex, weight, height, the presence of more than one disorder, and the use of other drugs. Therefore, health care practitioners tailor the dose of a drug to the individual.

Medical Terms

Medical terms are often provided, usually in parentheses after the common term. See Understanding Medical Terms for a list of prefixes, roots, and suffixes used in medical terminology. This list can help take the mystery out of medicine's multisyllabic vocabulary.


Hyperlinked cross-references identify other important or related discussions of a topic. Some cross-references point the reader to a figure, sidebar, or table.