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CAM: National Survey Results

2004: Volume 1, Number 2


In May 2004 the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), released findings from the 2002 edition of the NCHS’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The survey included detailed questions about CAM such as its prevalence, the most commonly used CAM therapies, and the reasons people are using them.

Key Findings
In the United States, 36% of adults are using some form of CAM. When megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons are included in the definition of CAM, that number rises to 62%.
People of all backgrounds use CAM.


CAM is used more by:
Women than men.
– People with higher levels of education.
– People who had been hospitalized in the prior year.
– Former smokers than current smokers or those who have never smoked.

When the definition of CAM includes prayer, the domain of mind-body medicine is the most commonly used (53%). When prayer is not included, biologically based therapies (22%) are more popular than mind-body medicine (17%). Prayer specifically for health reasons was the most commonly used CAM therapy. (See chart 2).

Most people who use CAM use it to treat themselves, as only about 12% of the survey respondents sought care from a licensed CAM practitioner.

Americans are most likely to use CAM for back, neck, head, or joint aches, or other painful conditions, as well as for colds, anxiety or depression, gastrointestinal disorders, or sleep problems. CAM is most often used to treat or prevent conditions involving chronic or recurring pain.

The survey asked people to select from five reasons to describe why they used CAM.
1. Improved health when used with conventional medical treatments: 55%
2. CAM would be interesting to try: 50%
3. Conventional medical treatments would not help: 28%
4. A conventional medical professional suggested trying CAM: 26%
5. Conventional medical treatments are too expensive: 13%

The Bottom Line
When prayer is included, the majority of consumers use some form of CAM within their own health management practices. More than half of respondents combine CAM with conventional medicine. This reinforces the need for physicians to survey patients about their use of CAM and discuss the benefits and risks of combining it with conventional medical treatment.


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