Rheumatic Disease and Complementary-Alternative Treatments: A Qualitative Study of Patient's Experiences

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Background:Complementary-alternative medicine (CAM) has been widely used by rheumatic patients for many years, but doctors are often unaware of the actual use.Objectives:This study aimed at patients' experience and perceptions of CAM as a way for long-term coping with illness.Methods:Fifteen in-depth interviews were conducted with patients sampled by contact with voluntary patient-driven rheumatic disease societies, outside of any treatment settings. Strategically, the sampling included a variety of rheumatic diseases and CAM-treatments, but strived otherwise to be typical of CAM-users. Interviews were taped and fully transcribed; coding and analysis of themes were assisted by computer software.Results:Rheumatic disease patients expressed use of CAM as methods of regulation of discomforts, the feeling of the body, and self-empowerment, not for unrealistic healing of their rheumatic disease. They experienced a variety of effects, most often expressed in terms of mind-body interrelated experiences, such as “lightness of the body” rather than relief in specific symptoms. They expressed the feeling of “have been helped” when leaving a CAM-session and appreciated to have more than 1 way to understand their disease and symptoms. They were usually not naive, but were critical consumers. The patients typically believed in the alternative viewpoints of “natural is best” and in “energy meridians,” but they were otherwise not believers in any alternative, “new age”-type worldview.Conclusion:These findings suggest that clinical practice may be enriched by listening to or asking rheumatic disease patients' CAM-experiences in a nonpatronizing way.

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