News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Survey: Many Kids Get Alternative Treatments
Many children with medical conditions are using alternative therapies, a study suggests. Researchers surveyed parents of children who got medical care at specialty clinics in Canada. All of the children had long-term conditions. They included epilepsy, asthma, heart problems and cancer. About 71% of children at a clinic in western Canada used some type of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). About 42% of those at a central Canada clinic used CAM. The most common CAM products used were multivitamins and minerals (85%). About 16% used herbal products. Nearly 12% used homeopathic products. The CAM practice used most often was massage (39%). More than 20% used chiropractic. About 16% each used relaxation and aromatherapy. The journal Pediatrics published the study online. MedPage Today wrote about it January 14.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Parents have lots of ways of making their children feel better when they are sick. Some make chicken soup to help relieve cold symptoms. Others give popsicles to soothe a sore throat. Of course, parents often take their children to the doctor, who may prescribe medicine to make the child feel better.
More and more parents are using "alternative" therapies. These are sometimes called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM describes ways to heal that may not be part of usual traditional medicine.
The use of CAM is especially common for children with conditions that are:
- Chronic (long-lasting)
- Recurrent (coming back over and over)
- Incurable (having no cure)
A new study looks at the use of CAM among children in Canada who had these conditions. The journal Pediatrics published it online this week.
The study focused on children being seen in clinics for conditions such as cancer, asthma, epilepsy, digestive diseases and heart problems. Parents were asked to fill out surveys about their family's use of CAM. Close to 1,000 surveys were completed.
CAM use was very common among these children. The CAM products used most often were:
- Multivitamins and minerals
- Herbal products
- Homeopathic remedies
The CAM practices used most often were:
- Faith healing
Most respondents felt that their use of CAM was helpful. They reported few side effects. Most of these side effects were felt to be minor.
The study also found that some children were using CAM and prescription medicines at the same time. However, 1 in 5 of the parents did not tell the doctor or pharmacist that their child was using CAM. This could be a big problem. It can be dangerous if the treatments are not supposed to be used together. Be sure to tell your child's doctor about any CAM therapies or supplements your child is taking.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
CAM does not replace traditional medical care. Never delay or stop usual medical treatment for an alternative therapy. This would be too risky.
CAM, on its own, may not be enough to help your child get well. Relying only on alternative therapies could result in harm to your child's health. Also, remember that supplements, even those labeled as "natural," can have the potential to cause harm.
If you already are using (or plan to use) CAM with your child, talk with your child's doctor. The doctor can discuss how safe that CAM treatment is for your child.
Some CAM treatments also may interfere with the traditional medical treatments your child's doctor recommends. Harm can be prevented if the doctor knows all therapies your child is receiving.
There is no organization that checks all alternative care providers nor creates standards of treatment for CAM. The federal government does have a lead agency for scientific research on CAM. It's called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Learn as much as you can before choosing a CAM provider. NCCAM offers advice about this. Here are some questions you could ask:
- What education and training have you received?
- Do you have experience treating children?
- Do you have experience working together with other providers (including physicians)?
- Do you have a license? (Some states require licenses for certain CAM practitioners, such as chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, massage therapists and acupuncturists).
For tips about how to talk about CAM with your childs doctor, visit the NCCAM Time to Talk web page.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Expect your child's doctor to ask routinely about your family's use of CAM. Always make sure the doctor is aware of any supplements or therapies your child is receiving. Treatments that work for adults may not always be right for children. You can expect more studies on the safety of CAM in children. Researchers will also explore how effective CAM treatments are in children.