Beliefs about asthma and complementary and alternative medicine in low-income inner-city African-American adults

J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Dec;21(12):1317-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00624.x.


Background: The gap in asthma prevalence, morbidity, and mortality is increasing in low-income racial/ethnic minority groups as compared with Caucasians. In order to address these disparities,alternative beliefs and behaviors need to be identified.

Objective: To identify causal models of asthma and the context of conventional prescription versus complementary and alternative medicine(CAM) use in low-income African-American (AA) adults with severe asthma.

Design: Qualitative analysis of 28 in-depth interviews.

Participants: Twenty-six women and 2 men, aged 21 to 48, who self-identified as being AA, low-income, and an inner-city resident.

Approach: Transcripts of semi-structured in-depth qualitative interviews were inductively analyzed using the constant comparison approach.

Results: Sixty-four percent of participants held biologically correct causal models of asthma although 100% reported the use of at least 1 CAM for asthma. Biologically based therapies, humoral balance, and prayer were the most popular CAM. While most subjects trusted prescription asthma medicine, there was a preference for integration of CAM with conventional asthma treatment. Complementary and alternative medicine was considered natural, effective, and potentially curative. Sixty-three percent of participants reported non adherence to conventional therapies in the 2 weeks before the research interview. Neither CAM nor nonmedical causal models altered most individuals(93%) willingness to use prescription medication. Three possibly dangerous CAM were identified.

Conclusions: Clinicians should be aware of patient-generated causal models of asthma and use of CAM in this population. Discussing patients' desire for an integrated approach to asthma management and involving social networks are 2 strategies that may enhance patient provider partnerships and treatment fidelity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Asthma* / therapy
  • Complementary Therapies
  • Humans
  • Poverty
  • Whites