In the treatment of chronic illnesses, it is not uncommon for people to use other remedies including herbal, homeopathic, or vitamins that have the potential to interact adversely with doctor-recommended treatment.
A study, conducted by the Universities of Ottawa and Alberta in Canada, examined the alternative treatment methods of 926 families at 10 separate clinics in Edmonton and Ottawa.
Parents of kids were asked to complete surveys in the waiting room before entering for their child's appointment. The children being treated at these clinics were being seen for health conditions in one of the following areas: cardiology, neurology, oncology, gastroenterology, or respiratory health.
Researchers found that nearly 71 percent of the pediatric patients used alternative medicine at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, and 42 percent at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.
Nearly 20 percent of the families surveyed admitted they had not informed their physician or pharmacist about using alternative and prescription medications together.
Sunita Vohra, a researcher with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, and lead investigator on the study said:
"Right now, these families are getting information about alternative medicine from friends, family and the Internet, but a key place they should be getting this information from is their doctor or another member of their health-care team, who would know about possible drug interactions with prescription medicines."
The most common alternative medicines reported were:
- homeopathic remedies
Parents were almost three times as likely to use alternative medicine if the kid's health seemed poor and if the parent had previously used that form of treatment themselves.
Simultaneous use of conventional medicine and alternative medicine can be dangerous. The study results showed that 80 cases occurred of interactions between traditional medicine and alternative medicine, 19 that were adverse, and six considered severe.
Vohra explained, "People make an assumption that natural means safe."
For example, fish oil is a blood thinner and combining it with a prescribed blood thinner could end in bleeding, the authors pointed out.
Also, echinacea is an herb commonly taken by people to improve immune system, but it can counteract chemotherapy in cancer patients.
The authors believe that families want doctors to ask about use of alternative medicine and they need a reliable source of information about the possible dangers and advantages.
"It's important to get these conversations going with every patient, especially when you consider it's not widely recognized how common it is for children with chronic illnesses to use alternative medicine. We need to make sure these families are comfortable telling their specialists they are taking other therapies."
In a report by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2009, it was said that Americans had spent over $33.9 billion of their own money on alternative and complementary medicine.