Alternative Treatments May Be Gaining Popularity, Studies Show

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More and more people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).More and more people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM therapies are now being used by patients with many kinds of health problems. People with cancer, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few, turn to alternative medicine to help their ailments (sometimes in addition to conventional western medicine). This involves taking supplements, using massage therapy, and other forms of alternative medicine.

In Denmark, for example, one in four people use CAM therapies to manage their health. One recent study found that many people with multiple sclerosis use a large range of alternative medicine to heal their ailments, although these patients didn’t share much of the details of their CAM therapy use with their doctors. They did, however, report that they experienced fewer side effects compared to those triggered by conventional drugs. On the other hand, they also reported less positive effects from the CAM therapies compared to conventional medicines.

In Sweden, a team of researchers recently studied how the patients of registered healthcare professionals in surgical departments at Swedish university hospitals use CAM therapies. A questionnaire was distributed to 1,757 registered physicians, nurses, and physiotherapists. About 700 health professionals reported that their patients were using some kind of alternative medicine, including massage, manual therapies, yoga, acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary supplements, homeopathy, and healing.

Which therapies were most utilized to improve health? Over 40% of patients gave massage therapy and/or acupuncture a try to manage their symptoms. Once again, though, not much communication was happening between patients and health care professionals about the use of CAM.

This is due to a general lack of knowledge among health care professionals about CAM therapies and their possible mechanisms of action.

MORE: Patients and doctors just aren’t communicating

It seems there is a disconnect between health care professionals who are reluctant to prescribe CAM therapies and patients who frequently turn to alternative medicine when traditional drugs aren’t giving them the results they want. But the problem is patients often won’t tell their doctor that they’re combining conventional medicine with alternative medicine.

Let’s turn once again to our specific example of multiple sclerosis and the results from one more trial. 111 patients from Philadelphia with multiple sclerosis were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their CAM use.  All the participants used CAM therapies. About 20 of the 111 patients used nothing but CAM therapy to treat and manage their condition. And 70% of the patients using CAM had a disability score under five (with 10 representing the most severe disability symptoms).

Is your doctor likely to prescribe CAM therapies for the treatment of your health issues? Probably not. Does that mean you shouldn’t use CAM therapies? The answer to that is also “no.” Clearly, patients find that CAM therapies are beneficial for their health. The best approach to alternative therapies is to utilize them for their healing benefits but to discuss this use with your doctor. This way, both conventional and alternative medicines can complement one another.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Skovgaard, L., et al., “Differences between users and non-users of complementary and alternative medicine among people with multiple sclerosis in Denmark: A comparison of descriptive characteristics,” Scand J Public Health. April 2, 2013, published online ahead of print.
Bjersa, K., et al., “Knowledge about complementary, alternative and integrative medicine (CAM) among registered health care providers in Swedish surgical care: a national survey among university hospitals,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012; 12: 42.
Stoll, S.S., et al., “Use of therapies other than disease-modifying agents, including complementary and alternative medicine, by patients with multiple sclerosis: a survey study,” J Am Osteopath Assoc. January 2012; 112(1): 22-8.

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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »