Hemophilia: Complementary and alternative therapies

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Learn how complimentary and alternative therapies can help teens living with hemophilia manage pain.

When looking for ways to manage your pain, you may consider using alternative therapy or complementary medicines. Before you make a decision, it is important to understand the difference between these two terms.

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are health-care systems, practices, and products that are not a part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is practiced by medical doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and psychologists.

The list of therapies that are conventional versus CAM changes frequently. Sometimes treatments are proven safe and effective, in which case they may then become part of conventional treatment.

Complementary medicine versus alternative medicine

Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example might be using aromatherapy in addition to your medication. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example would be replacing all your prescribed medicine with a special diet and supplements.

Talk to your doctor before starting any complementary or alternative therapies. You still need to take your prescribed medicines.

To learn more about whole body system CAMs and dietary supplements, visit the complementary and alternative medicines for JIA page in the Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Learning Hub.

‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean ‘safe’

There are many safe and effective supplements that come from natural sources like plants. Many traditional medicines also come from natural sources! However, ‘natural’ does not always mean ‘safe.’ Natural products can have side effects too. For example, there are mushrooms that grow naturally and are poisonous!

Dietary supplements may be regulated as ‘foods.’ They do not need to meet the same safety and effectiveness standards as medications do.

Some supplements have caused harm to people. The herbs kava and comfrey have caused severe liver damage. Supplements can be toxic or dangerous. A supplement can be contaminated with heavy metals, prescription drugs, or pesticides.

A supplement may interact with other medications you are taking. Studies have found that many bottles of commonly available supplements:

  • did not contain the ingredients listed on the label
  • had very little of the active ingredient
  • were contaminated with other dangerous compounds.

Evaluating complementary and alternative therapies

If you are using or considering complementary or alternative therapies, talk to your doctor or nurse. Some of these therapies may interfere with your standard medical treatment.

How to get reliable information about a therapy

Find out what scientific studies say about the therapy you are interested in. Do not take a therapy simply because you saw it in an advertisement or on a website, or because someone told you that it worked for them. Don’t just take a therapy because someone told you that it worked for them. Find out whether scientific studies support the claims made for that therapy.

Learn about the treatment's risks, potential benefits, and scientific evidence. This is critical to your health and safety. Scientific research on many therapies is relatively new. This kind of information may not be available for every therapy. However, many studies on treatments are under way. Our knowledge and understanding is increasing all the time. To find out more about current therapies, check out the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Before trying a therapy

  • Ask your doctor about it. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you.
  • Do your research. Find out if there is scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the treatment. Also find out about any side effects. Get as much information as you can from independent sources. Don’t rely on those providing the treatment for information about it.
  • Find out about the person giving the treatment. What kind of training does he or she have? How many of these treatments has the person performed? Does the practitioner belong to a regulated and certified group of some kind?
  • Find out how much the treatment will cost. Also see if your insurance will cover it.
  • Beware of alternative medicine practitioners who say they can cure diseases that do not respond to standard medical practice.

You might think that your doctor does not want you to try CAM therapies. Because of this, you might feel uncomfortable telling your doctor. But it's important for your doctor to know about all the treatments you are taking. Some CAM therapies, such as Ginkgo biloba or large amounts of garlic, can interfere with conventional treatments, making your bleeds worse. Keep your doctor informed to ensure that you get the best care.

Last updated: March 13th 2019