Complementary and alternative medical practices - which include health products and therapies that aren't generally considered part of conventional medicine - are frequently a part of Americans' health care regimens. That's the finding of a new survey released this month by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Thirty-eight percent of American adults are using some form of complementary and alternative medicine, known as CAM, to help with their health.
NCCAM Director Dr. Josephine Briggs says the new survey provides the most current, comprehensive and reliable source of information on Americans' use of unconventional remedies such as medicinal herbs, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, massage and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation.
Most of these patients, Briggs says, hope to alleviate pain.
"The most common reason why people turn to complementary and alternative medicine in our survey results is chronic back pain - far and away, the leading reason to use complementary and alternative medicine," she says. "Neck pain, joint pain, headache: All these other conditions are also given as common reasons. But chronic back pain is the leading reason, a very common and difficult condition to treat."
As the federal government's lead agency for scientific research into CAM therapies, the center funds hundreds of projects and trials, supports training for researchers and encourages integration of proven CAM therapies into conventional practice.
Another important part of NCCAM's mission is to publicize news and information about complementary and alternative medicine, and promote discussions about it between patients and their health care providers.
Briggs notes, "It is very important that people talk to their physicians and other health care providers about their use of complementary and alternative medicine."
She points to a survey NCCAM helped conduct, which revealed that as many as two-thirds of those who were using complementary and alternative medicine were not telling their doctors about it.
"We think this is a very sizeable concern. A dialogue about complementary and alternative medicine is a very key part of safe and integrated care."
It is so important that NCCAM has launched a national education campaign to encourage doctor-patient dialogue on these unconventional health practices.