NLM Drug Information Portal FAQs
What is the scope of the Drug Information Portal?
We cover 70,711 drugs from the time that they are in clinical trials, through their U.S. FDA approval, and then on to the marketplace. The coverage includes:
We cover many drugs from countries other than the U.S., however we do not cover them completely. We also do not cover all experimental drugs, or untested folk remedies if they are not covered by the sources above.
What is the difference between the top menu and the search box?
The pull down menu at the top of the pages guides you to general drug resources such as News and Features, NLM resources, resources by category, and other government resources such as NIH and FDA. You may use whatever features are available at a particular site, which will open in a separate window.
The search box in the middle of a page uses the drug name you enter to simultaneously search a selected group of these resources for information about that drug. You may also search the category of the drug. Both drug name searches and category searches will give you suggestions for a search as you type using Ajax technology. These suggestions will start after the first 3 characters in the drug name, and the first two characters in the category.
The results page lists all available resources for a drug, and will open each result in a new window.
What is available on the search results page?
The search results page gives the name(s) of the drug, a summary of the drug’s actions, and where to find additional information.
The Drug Name is usually the official generic name for a drug. The source of the generic name follows in brackets if available. Following are acronyms for some of the types of generic names.
- USAN United States Adopted Name.
- INN International Nonproprietary Name.
- BAN British Approved Name.
- JAN Japanese Approved Name.
- DCF French Approved Name.
Drug names are often structured to give an indication of use. For example, the ending “azepam” as in Diazepam (Valium) shows that the drug has anti-anxiety activity as you might expect for Valium. You may browse a table of these generic name stems showing the correspondence of an ending to a drug class.
The Category in the search results page gives the general use for a particular drug and is derived from the NLM MeSH Pharmacological Action (PA) Field. An example for diazepam is:
If one or more categories are displayed for a particular drug, you may search on a selected category to identify other drugs that include this NLM MeSH Pharmacological Action drug category. A list of these categories and their definitions can be viewed by selecting the information button. If a particular Category is selected, the information button will show its definition.
The Description is a summary of what the drug is, and what it does. A description is usually taken from the Note field of the NLM MeSH file. An example for diazepam is:
“A Benzodiazepine with anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, sedative, muscle relaxant, and amnesic properties and a long duration of action. Its actions are mediated by enhancement of GABA activity. It is used in the treatment of severe anxiety disorders, as a hypnotic in the short-term management of insomnia, as a sedative and premedicant, as an anticonvulsant, and in the management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. (From Martindale, The Extra Pharmacopoeia, 30th ed, p589)”
MedlinePlus and DailyMed also provide summaries of the use of a drug if they have data for the particular drug that you have searched.
How do I know which resources are most appropriate for my question?
Once you have made a search, a series of hyperlinked resources will appear on the results page. These are the results of searching these resources for the drug you are interested in. A help balloon pops up over each resource retrieved when you hold your mouse over the hyperlink. This help describes the general scope of that resource. In addition, there is an information button () that opens a window giving a more complete description. Clicking on the result’s hyperlink opens a new window with the results from that resource.
Can I use truncation in my searches?
You can use an asterisk (*) to find names that start with a drug name, or contain a drug name. For instance, ibuprofen* finds drugs that begin with the term “ibuprofen”. You can also use an asterisk at either or both ends of a term to find text embedded in a drug name. An example is using *cillin* to find drugs that contain this penicillin ending as part of their name. You retrieve multiple answers in this case, and may select individual drugs from this list.
What if my drug search doesn’t retrieve anything?
We try to find your drug concept in several ways. In a “By Name” drug name search, the name you enter will often result in suggestions as you type, based on what is in the file. You may select one of these and it will be put into the search box, where you can click the Go button to search. If you don’t like the suggestions, you may type in what you want and search directly.
If it retrieves no answers your search term will be analyzed to look for a drug name and that will be searched. For instance, if you enter a phrase such as “I need information about aspirin”, the drug name “aspirin” will be found and searched. Review the output carefully, since English words may also be a synonym of a drug that is not of interest to you.
If this analysis fails, the spell checker will give suggestions, showing the name and description if available. Be careful in selecting from these, since the names of some drugs with dissimilar effects sound and look the same. Finally, if there is still no answer, you are given the opportunity to search MedlinePlus.
Generic categories such as “SSRI” (for Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) or “Cancer Treatment” can be entered in a “By Category” drug portal search. As you type, you may be given suggestions for the standard search representation of a category (see examples on the front page). You may be given an opportunity to search these terms in the NLM MedlinePlus system if they retrieve nothing in the Drug Information Portal.
If all this fails, it may be that we just don’t cover your drug name, and you might try a different variation.
Can I make a suggestion to add a drug?
We would be glad to take suggestions by email. E-Mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Give the name of the drug, its use and any other descriptive information that you have. All suggested drugs must fit the scope of the Drug Information Portal.
How do I search for Categories?
The Category field contains data taken from the MeSH Pharmacological Action (PA) vocabulary. It has cross references from the MeSH file, as well as some added by NLM. You may search these using the “By Category” radio button.
Once you retrieve a drug record, you may search for the Categories that may be listed in the box below the name by clicking on them. These will retrieve other drug records that are also categorized in this way.
General drug classes can be also searched by using the generic name stem of a drug. A table of these stems are available. They may be searched in the name search box by using asterisks for truncation, such as *azepam* to find drug names that correspond to antianxiety drugs such as Lorazepam.
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