March 3, 2006

Alternative medicine common in kids; docs unaware

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In places as far apart as Wales
and Australia, about half of the children seen at pediatric
hospitals are using complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM), investigators report.

In a second study, British researchers found that children
with chronic diseases were three times more likely to use CAM
than healthy children.

In both studies, reported in the Archives of Disease in
Childhood, the researchers found that parents and their
children were unlikely to discuss CAM use with their doctors.

Although the number of people using complementary or
alternative remedies has been increasing with time, there have
been no studies of CAM use by youngsters, note Dr. Colin V. E.
Powell, from University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and his

To find out more, the team interviewed approximately 500
children and their parents attending a major specialist
hospital in Cardiff, Wales and in Melbourne, Australia.

CAM was used by 41 percent of patients in Cardiff and 51
percent in Melbourne.

Powell's group observed that Cardiff patients were less
likely to use specific medicinal CAM, such as vitamins and
minerals, herbs, or naturopathy, as well as non-medicinal CAM,
such as chiropractic and therapeutic massage.

Only about one third of patients or their parents reported
CAM use to their doctors. "The poor communication highlights
the importance of local policy development," the authors say,
to promote a dialogue about alternative medicine between
patients and their health care providers.

For the second article, Dr. l. J. McCann from University
College London and Dr. S. J. Newell from St. James's University
Hospital in Leeds interviewed parents of 25 children with
cerebral palsy, 25 with inflammatory bowel disease, 25 with
cancer, and 25 healthy "controls" regarding CAM use.

They found that children with chronic illnesses were
significantly more likely to use CAM than their healthy
counterparts -- 40 percent versus 12 percent. The sick children
were also more likely to use complementary medications (21
percent versus 4 percent) -- primarily Echinacea, and herbal
and Chinese remedies.

The investigators also observed that 55 percent of parents
whose children were using CAM had not discussed the issue with
their doctor.

McCann and Newell suggest that doctors gain a working
knowledge of complementary and alternative medicine, so they
can discuss it with their patients.

Editorialist Dr. E. Ernst from the Universities of Exeter &
Plymouth, UK, points out that although alternative therapy may
be harmless, bad advise from a homeopath or naturopath, such as
recommending against immunizations, "would almost inevitably
cause serious harm."

Ernst agrees that clinicians need up-to-date knowledge
about which CAMs work, which do not and which may be harmful.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, February 2006.