BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Alternative medicine (AM) encompasses all forms of therapies that fall outside the mainstream of medical practice. Its popularity is on the increase. Because previous surveys were limited and not generalizable, we estimated the prevalence, pattern and factors associated with use of AM in the community.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS: A multistage cluster cross-sectional household survey was conducted among Saudi residents of the Riyadh region. Data were collected in 2003 by trained interviewers from primary health care centers using a specially designed questionnaire.
RESULTS: Of 1408 individuals participating in the study, 39% were men. The mean ( +/-SD) age for the study population was 35.5 ( +/-13.9) years. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents had used AM during the last 12 months. The Holy Quran as a therapy was the most frequently used AM (50.3%), followed by honey (40.1 %), black seed (39.2%) and myrrh (35.4%). The health belief model was found to be the most important determinant of AM use. Factors independently associated with AM use included perceived failure of medical treatment, the perceived success of AM, a preference for natural materials, and long appointment intervals to see physicians.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: There is a high prevalence of AM use in the Riyadh region and the most important determinant of AM use was the perceived failure of medical treatment. The study results call for intensive health education campaigns in the media addressing wrong beliefs regarding AM and modern medicine. The popularity of AM in this community should alert decision makers to look at the difficult accessibility to the health system.