Monday, July 31, 2006

Talk to Your Doc About Your Alternative Meds

(HealthDay News) -- The popularity of complementary and alternative medicine is on the rise, with more than one-third of U.S. adults using at least one these treatments, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine.

And if you're like most proponents of these treatments, you probably don't mention them to your primary-care physician. You may think it's not important or you might just forget. Or, you might think your doctor won't approve.

But it's crucial to tell your doctor, says Dr. Robert Bonakdar, a family physician at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, in La Jolla, Calif., who directs pain management and blends conventional and alternative approaches.

"Everything a patient is using is important for the doctor to know," he says. "Full disclosure enables full care."

Another physician with a special interest in integrative medicine agrees. "The best thing patients can do is be honest with what they are taking," says Dr. Janine Blackman, medical director of The Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and an assistant professor of family medicine.

Complementary and alternative medicine describes a wide group of medical practices and products, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Complementary describes techniques used in conjunction with conventional medicine; alternative describes techniques that can be used in place of it.

Among the options are homeopathic medicine, chiropractic, dietary supplements, aromatherapy, and massage therapy, among many others.

So, how best to approach your doctor? First, understand that your doctor may not have a lot of background or knowledge about an alternative or complementary approach, Bonakdar says. Few doctors, especially older ones, studied these treatments in medical school.

"Bring it up in an open manner," he suggests, by saying something like: "This is something I am interested in, what do you think?"

Physicians should be open to discussion, at least, he says. "The patients should expect the doctor to be open and non-judgmental in the discussion of complementary treatments," he said. "They should hear you out."

"They should be able to educate you from their standpoint based on whether they think it is safe, appropriate and effective," he adds. As a patient, you should expect your physician, if he or she is unfamiliar with the treatment you are interested in, to offer to check to see if there is any evidence that it works, Bonakdar says.

In recent years, Blackman adds, more physicians have become open to the concept of alternative medicine or complementary approaches.

But a recent survey, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 84 percent of the 302 physicians questioned thought they needed to know more about complementary and alternative medicine to address patient questions and concerns adequately. Even so, nearly half had recommended an alternative or complementary treatment to a patient.

One way to facilitate the discussion about alternative or complementary treatments is to bring as much information as you can to the doctor visit. If you're interested in supplements, for instance, take the bottle so the doctor can see the exact dose and formula, plus the manufacturer.

And patients must understand there are dangers to mixing some complementary and conventional treatments, Blackman says. Certain dietary supplements, for instance, can affect the dosing of blood-thinning medications, thinning the blood to adverse levels, she says.

If your doctor isn't comfortable with an alternative or complementary approach that you feel strongly about, you have options, Blackman maintains. Either find a new physician or continue seeing your doctor, alerting him or her about your decision to use the complementary or alternative approach. Then, you can consult someone else knowledgeable about the alternative therapy, such as a pharmacist.

More information
To learn more about complementary and alternative medicine,
visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

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