Many people with MS use complementary and alternative medicine, which refers to unconventional medical practices that are not part of mainstream medicine. The term complementary medicine refers to therapies that are used in addition to conventional medicine, while the term alternative medicine is used to describe treatment that is used instead of conventional medicine.
Surveys have shown that approximately 90 percent of people who use CAM also use conventional medicine. Thus, a small fraction of people who use CAM do so in a truly alternative manner.
One of the biggest testaments to the appeal of CAM is that approximately 85 million people have paid for it, out of their own pockets, to the tune of $10 billion a year. Studies reveal that at least one out of three people in the United States has tried CAM and a majority of physicians supports the use of one or more CAM therapies. Currently two-thirds of health maintenance organizations offer some CAM to their members.
The fact that over 125 medical schools, including Harvard, Albert Einstein College, Cornell, Duke University, Stanford University School of Medicine, now offer CAM to their patients, has eased the minds of many who once felt all doctors were highly opposed to alternative medicine.
While methods of conventional medicine provide the greatest hope for understanding and curing MS, there are three areas of CAM that may be of interest to people with MS because conventional medicine does not, as of yet, have a cure:
Health and Well Being – diet, exercise, herbs, vitamins, apitherapy, hyperbaric oxygen
Stress - massage, reflexology, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, tai chi, yoga
Symptom Management - acupuncture, ayurveda, homeopathy, chiropractic
With a large number of people with MS pursuing CAM therapies, it is essential for people to be knowledgeable about the therapies they choose and for physicians, other healthcare providers, and CAM practitioners to be aware that multiple conventional and CAM therapies are in use and that interactions among them are possible.
By focusing more attention on CAM, and increasing communication between patients and healthcare professionals, we may actually develop a new understanding of the disease process, perhaps even discovering new therapies.
(Last reviewed 7/2009)