Despite many studies confirming that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by children is common, few have assessed related adverse events.
To conduct a national survey to identify the frequency and severity of adverse events associated with paediatric CAM use.
Survey questions were developed based on a review of relevant literature and consultation with content experts. In January 2006, the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program distributed the survey to all paediatricians and paediatric subspecialists in active practice in Canada.
Of the 2489 paediatricians who received the survey, 583 (23%) responded. Respondents reported that they asked patients about CAM use 38% of the time and that patients disclosed this information before being questioned only 22% of the time. Forty-two paediatricians (7%) reported seeing adverse events, most commonly involving natural health products, in the previous year. One hundred five paediatricians (18%) reported witnessing cases of delayed diagnosis or treatment (n=488) that they attributed to the use of CAM.
While serious adverse events associated with paediatric CAM appear to be rare, delays in diagnosis or treatment seem more common. Given the lack of paediatrician-patient discussion regarding CAM use, our findings may under-represent adverse events. A lack of reported adverse events should not be interpreted as a confirmation of safety. Active surveillance is required to accurately assess the incidence, nature and severity of paediatric CAM-related adverse events. Patient safety demands that paediatricians routinely inquire about the use of CAM.