Patients not revealing alternative meds use

  • Deborah Condon

A new Irish study has shown that a significant number of patients use alternative and complementary medicines without informing their GP, despite the fact that these may negatively interact with conventional medicines.

According to Galway GP, Dr Julie Ryan and Mayo GP, Dr Brian Lennon, who carried out the study, international evidence suggests that the use of complementary medicines and therapies ‘has increased rapidly throughout the world over the past decade'.

However, research also indicates that many people undergoing treatment for various conditions do not inform their doctors of this. Until now, little Irish research has been carried out on this topic.

The two GPs decided to assess the use of complementary therapies among patients attending a rural practice in Ireland. Questionnaires were given to patients over a four-week period. This method ‘covered a large number of patients, identified a wide range of opinions and acquired a lot of information over a short period of time'.

For the purpose of the study, complementary and alternative therapies were listed as herbal medicines, vitamin supplements, osteopathy, craniology, acupuncture, homeopathy and anything else the patient felt was relevant.

Ninety people responded to the questionnaires. They ranged in age from 16 to 90, with an average age of 50.

The study found that around one in five women and one in seven men had used some type of alternative medicine. The most common type was herbal supplements, followed by osteopathy and acupuncture.

Two in three of the respondents had some sort of chronic condition, with most of these taking regular medication for that condition.

However, among those who were taking both conventional medication for a chronic condition and an alternative medicine, less than half told their GP about this.

"We found that a significant number of patients were using alternative and complementary medicines, with the majority not disclosing this to their GP and a significant proportion having chronic medical conditions for which they were also taking conventional medicines," the researchers explained.

They said that GPs ‘should have a high level of suspicion that their patients may be using extra therapies that they are not aware of'.

"GPs should ask patients frequently if they are using any alternative therapies, as these may impact on what the doctor plans to use as therapy," they added.

Details of these findings are published in Forum, the Journal of the Irish College of General Practitioners.

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