Many Americans with the chronic skin condition psoriasis use complementary or alternative therapies to treat their symptoms, a small survey finds.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease marked by raised, red, scaly patches on the skin. It is associated with other serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and depression. Treatments range from topical ointments to ultraviolet light therapy to medication.
The National Psoriasis Foundation distributed the survey in a newsletter sent to about 100,000 members. In all, 219 people responded.
Patients typically begin using complementary or alternative medicine when traditional treatments don't help or cause unwanted side effects, said lead researcher Dr. Adam Friedman. He's interim chairman of dermatology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"Patients turn to these treatments because what was initially prescribed is not working out for them," Friedman said in a university news release. "But what we found through the survey is that patients may not completely understand what products will work best for them."
The survey found that some respondents turned to therapies that have not been proven effective or have not been studied for treatment of psoriasis.
For example, patients often reported using vitamins D and B12, though there is no proof that they're effective against psoriasis.
Meanwhile, indigo naturalis -- a plant extract widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and recognized as a therapy for several inflammatory conditions -- has been shown to be effective, but was not reported by patients in the survey. Dead Sea treatments were commonly reported by patients and have been shown to be beneficial.
"In addition to the chosen treatments, we also found that less than half of the respondents would recommend complementary or alternative therapies to others," Friedman said. "This could be a result of using therapies supported by limited evidence."
He said doctors should be educated about complementary and alternative treatments so they can steer patients to evidence-based approaches that may help.
The survey was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The National Psoriasis Foundation has more on psoriasis.
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