Alternative Medicine Use by MS Patients Mapped

22/04/2013

A major Nordic research project involving researchers from the University of Copenhagen has mapped the use of alternative treatment among multiple sclerosis patients – knowledge which is important for patients with chronic disease and the way in which society meets them.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often use alternative treatments such as dietary supplements, acupuncture and herbal medicine to facilitate their lives with this chronic disease. This is the result of a new study of how MS patients use both conventional and alternative treatments which has been carried out by researchers from five Nordic countries.

"What we see is that patients do not usually use alternative treatments for treating symptoms, but as a preventative and strengthening element," says Lasse Skovgaard, industrial PhD candidate from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society, who has been involved in conducting the questionnaire-based study among 3,800 people with MS in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

Together with researchers from the five other Nordic countries, Lasse Skovgaard has spent three years gathering the new data, and he is delighted at what it offers: "Within the field of health research, it is often a question of studying the extent to which a particular type of drug affects a particular symptom. However, it is equally as important to look at how people with a chronic disease, for example, use different treatments to cope with their situation. Here, MS patients offer valuable experience. Their experiences constitute a knowledge bank which we must access and learn from," he says.

Lasse Skovgaard draws attention to the significance of this new knowledge because, if people with chronic disease are better able to manage their lives, it can potentially save society large sums of money. "There is a lot of talk about 'self-care competence', in other words patients helping themselves to get their lives to function. Here, many people with a chronic disease find they benefit from using alternative treatments, so we should not ignore this possibility," says Lasse Skovgaard.

At the same time, he emphasises that knowing more about why patients choose particular treatments is important in relation to improving patient safety because of the possible risks involved in combining conventional and alternative medicine.

According to the latest Health and Sickness Study from the Danish National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in 2010, one in four Danes say that they have tried one or more types of alternative treatments within the past twelve months. Among MS patients, the use of alternative medicine has been growing steadily over the past fifteen years. In the researchers' latest study, more than half of the respondents say that they either combine conventional and alternative medicine or only use alternative medicine.

"We cannot ignore the fact that people with chronic disease use alternative treatments to a considerable extent, and that many of them seem to benefit from doing so. It doesn't help to only judge this from a medical point of view or say that alternative treatments are nonsense – rather, we must try to understand it," says Lasse Skovgaard.

He hopes that the new knowledge will improve communication regarding how the chronically ill use alternative treatments in combination with conventional medicine: "We see that so many people are combining conventional medicine with alternative treatment that it should be taken seriously by the health service. Until now, there hasn't been much focus on the doctor-patient dialogue in relation to the alternative methods used by the chronically ill to manage their lives," says Lasse Skovgaard.

He says that the research group is continuing to analyse the results and, among other things, is conducting several interview studies based on the results of the questionnaires. The interview studies will, for example, provide additional knowledge on how patients perceive the risks associated with using alternative medicine and explore why some patients turn their backs completely on conventional medicine.

REHACARE.de; Source: University of Copenhagen

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