Background: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is increasingly used in adults and children. Studies on CAM in neurological disorders have focused on the adult population and its use among pediatric neurology patients has not been well characterized.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was: 1) To characterize the prevalence of CAM in pediatric neurology patients; 2) To determine the perceived effectiveness of CAM in these children; 3) To compare the cost of CAM with conventional therapies; and 4) To describe caregiver or patient-related variables associated with the use of CAM.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional survey of patients and families attending the Alberta Children's Hospital neurology clinic between February and May 2004. Patients were considered eligible if they were between two and 18 years of age and had a known history of neurological disorders. Caregivers completed several self-administered questionnaires regarding their socio-demographic profile, their child's neurological illness, and their experience with CAM. Caregivers also rated their child's quality of life using the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory.
Results: One hundred and five of 228 (46%) families completed the survey. The mean age of the neurology patients was 9.8 +/- 4.5 years. Forty-six (44%) out of 105 patients received one or more types of CAM, with the most common types being chiropractic manipulations (15%), dietary therapy (12%), herbal remedies (8%), homeopathy (8%), and prayer/faith healing (8%). Caregivers' sociodemographic variables or pediatric health-related quality of life were not significantly associated with the use of CAM. Fifty-nine percent of CAM users reported benefits, and only one patient experienced side effects. There was no significant difference in the total median cost of CAM compared to conventional therapies (31.70 dollars vs. 50.00 dollars per month). Caregivers' personal experience or success stories from friends and media were common reasons for trying CAM.
Conclusions: The use of CAM was common among pediatric neurology patients. Over half of the families reported benefits with CAM, and side effects were perceived to be few. Physicians should initiate discussion on CAM during clinic visits so that the families and patients can make informed decisions about using CAM. Further studies should address the specific role of CAM in children with neurological disorders, and to determine the potential interactions between CAM and conventional therapies in these patients.