A survey done by AARP of almost 1600 adults aged 50 and older showed that 63% had used one or more complementary or alternative medicine treatments (CAM). Of those who reported using these alternative treatments, 69% reported they had never discussed this with their regular physician. The most common treatment used at 45% was massage, chiropractic, or another form of bodywork. 42% reported using herbal or dietary supplements.
When asked why they did not discuss these treatments with their regular physician 42% said their doctor never asked, 30% reported they didn’t realize they should tell their doctor, 19% said their wasn’t enough time during the office visits, and 12% feared their doctor would be negative about the complementary or alternative treatments.
I presented this study on my NBC-2 Saturday morning segment. I felt it was important for viewers to know that physicians are aware that many people are using complementary and alternative treatments but specific knowledge about an individual patient’s CAM usage can be very important. I remarked that many traditional physicians in fact recommend treatments like massage for their patients with muscular back pain instead of prescription medications.
It is however very important for patients to realize, that some herbal remedies could be particularly harmful if combined with prescription medications. An example is the popular herb ginko biloba, which is supposed to improve mental function. This herb has been reported to cause spontaneous bleeding if the person is taking anticoagulants like coumadin or antiplatelet medications like plavix.
The supplements are not labeled as to these interactions so this caution would come from the physician if he or she was aware that the patient was on the herbal remedy. My recommendation to viewers was to give your doctor an updated list of prescription, over the counter, and herbal supplements at each visit. The more information that is shared, the more safe you will be.