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New warning over complementary therapy risk

By Nigel Praities

Large numbers of patients turn to complementary therapies to ease chronic pain, but nearly a third may be risking their health by not telling their doctor about what they are taking, warn researchers.

Their audit of 588 patients with chronic pain from 11 surgeries in the south-west of England found 46% used complementary therapies, with acupuncture, osteopathy or chiropody the most popular.


Presented at the Society for Academic Primary Care meeting in Galway, Ireland, the research shows that one in ten patients said complementary therapies were the only treatments that eased their pain, compared with 61% saying the same about pharmacological therapies.

Dr Adrian White, author on the study and a former GP, said the results showed the increasing popularity of complementary therapies in those with chronic pain: ‘Many of these patients have had pain for months or years and will leave no stone unturned to treat it,' he said.

However, the research also showed GPs may be unaware of the extent of complementary medicine use, with 29% of their patients not reporting this to their GP. More worryingly, only 25% of patients taking potentially harmful Chinese herbs, and 33% of patients taking other herbs, saying they had discussed this with their GP.

Dr White said the research was ‘alarming': ‘Some herbal medicines are actually quite powerful and can interact, and doctors need to know about these,' he said.

Dr Iain Gilchrist, a GP in Essex and treasurer of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society, said the communication gap added to uncertainty about the safety of complementary therapies.

‘Herbal medicines can cause liver damage and interact with other medicines, and doctors already have very little information about the dangers of some of these therapies,' he said.

Many patients fail to communicate wiht GPs about their alternative therapies Many patients fail to communicate wiht GPs about their alternative therapies

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