Typical cases seen at the doctor’s or at the outpatient department of a city hospital might include the following patients:
- A young woman with frequently occurring anxiety/depression,
- A 50- year old man with chronic pain of lower back,
- A working mother with debilitating headaches,
- A male smoker with history of diabetes and obesity,
- An eight-year old child with repeated ear and throat infections.
ln many instances, top-notch specialists and experts may examine these patients and, too often, tell some of them, “We have nothing else to offer you,” or “This is the best we can do for you,” or ” You must live with this problem,” or something of a kind.
Such patients often feel helpless and frustrated. The events and stories concerning their suffering are innumerable and continue to pose challenges for those who deal with human welfare, safety and health.
Some of these patients will do anything to end their agony and misery. As a result, many are turning to unconventional treatments, also called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Use of Alternative Therapies on the Rise The percentage of people using CAM therapies in the developed countries ranges from 25- 50%. ln the U.S., about 40% of yearly public reports show the use of at least one alternative therapy, according to the Journal of American Medical Association (1998). There is widespread demand for these therapies among those with chronic diseases such as cancer. Similar trends are also evident in the United Kingdom, Poland, Germany, Norway, France, Australia and Russia. The Middle Eastern countries such as UAE and Qatar are also witnessing increase of alternative treatments.
Some of these alternative therapies, commonly used worldwide include: quantum medicine, herbal medicine, nutrition supplements and megavitamins, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and mind/body interventions such as yoga, relaxation and meditation. Use of acupuncture, cupping and herbal medicine has been reported in the Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar and UAE. The likely users of these therapies include those suffering from health problems such as pain, headache and migraine, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), musculoskeletal problems, arthritic conditions, or anxiety and depression.
lt is becoming evident that programs offering preventive and wholesome options based on a variety of alternative healing systems are gaining popularity worldwide. Besides, by forming the basis of a refreshing and novel method of treatment and healing, these programs are producing positive scientific results.
So, how effective are these treatments? Several alternative therapies have been proven to be effective for certain diseases. There is sufficient evidence, for example, to support the use of (a) acupuncture for headaches/ migraines, chronic low back and neck pain, gastrointestinal problems (nausea), and addiction problems, (b) hypnosis for pain and nausea; (c) massage therapy for anxiety; (d) herbs for certain conditions, e.g., St John’s wort for mild depression; and (d) mind/body techniques such as meditation, yoga and biofeedback for pain and anxiety disorders.
High Satisfaction Rates with CAM Medical doctors who use CAM in their practice report benefits both for their patients and themselves. Several studies have repeatedly confirmed that patients’ satisfaction with CAM is very high. For cancer patients, satisfaction with CAM is high even without the expectation of anticancer effects.
Yet, there are many CAM therapies that have little to offer, or may even be harmful to patients. Coffee enemas, ozone therapy, inappropriate large doses of vitamins and use of shark cartilage are the examples of such therapies.
Despite valid positive research findings, many health care providers, including medical doctors, remain unfamiliar with or sceptical about the usefulness and limitations of CAM. Recent survey’s data, however, show that physicians and patients are becoming increasingly interested in a holistic and integrated approach to disease management. This approach makes both conventional and unconventional modalities available to consumers, so they can choose their best services. Health care providers must be informed about particular practitioners, so they can provide appropriate and meaningful advice to patients, concerning benefits and limitations of CAM. Similarly, patients interested in CAM should discuss integrative approaches to disease management with their health care providers.
A prudent approach towards alternative therapies is to provide them as adjunctive or complementary, rather than as alternative. While health care practitioners should be brave enough to use proven CAM treatments when indicated, they also should be brave enough to discourage the use of harmful therapies. For example, we know now that self- medication with large doses of vitamins and unwarranted use of certain herbal supplements could have detrimental health effects.