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GPs warned to check patients’ use of complementary medicines

By Lilian Anekwe

Almost half of all people in England have used complementary therapies, according to the first assessment of the use of complementary and alternative medicines in England.

The researchers, who include Pulse blogger Professor Edzard Ernst, said that their estimate of the prevalence of with which complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are used should act as a warning to GPs to check if their patients are talking any other medicines that may interact with prescribed drugs.

Researchers from the Peninsular Medical School at the University of Exeter gathered data from 7,630 responses to the Health Survey for England 2005, a national household survey that included questions on the use of CAM.

44% of people had used CAM during their lifetime and 26.3% said they had used CAM during the last twelve months, with massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture ranking as the most commonly used therapies.

But 29% of respondents who were taking prescription medicines had also used CAM in the last twelve months.

Dr Katherine Hunt, research fellow at the Peninsular Medical School, said the data should act as a 'valuable reminder' to GPs to routinely ask their patients about their CAM use.

Dr Hunt said: 'It should be noted that CAM treatments are not necessarily safe and, like all treatments, have the potential to bring about direct and indirect adverse effects.

‘Herb-drug interactions have not been extensively investigated, a situation which is concerning given that the data suggest that more than a quarter of those taking medications in England were using CAM in the same 12-month period.

‘To ensure patient safety, healthcare practitioners should routinely ask patients about their use of CAM and policymakers should ensure that CAM prevalence data are regularly collected, as is the case in other countries.'

International Journal of Clinical Practice, published online 4 August 2010.

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Click here for more on complementary medicine, from Professor Edzard Ernst.