Abstract: Background: Despite lack of scientific evidence about the safety of complementary and alternative medicines, the reported use of such remedies during pregnancies has increased. This study was undertaken to investigate the use of herbs, vitamins, and over-the-counter and prescription medications among pregnant Hispanic women and reasons for use, and to assess physician–patient level of communication about women’s use.
Methods: A total of 485 Hispanic women were surveyed by means of a self-administered questionnaire immediately postpartum in a public hospital in Houston, Texas. The primary outcome was use of alternative therapies during the prenatal period.
Results: During their pregnancies, 19 percent of the participants took herbs and 47 percent took vitamin supplements, other than prenatal vitamins. The most common reason for using herbs and vitamins was to improve the woman’s general health and energy level (59%); a few women (12%) had used them for specific pregnancy-related problems. Overall, 77 percent took prenatal vitamins and 21 percent supplemented with folic acid. The rates of use of over-the-counter and prescription medications were 23 and 29 percent, respectively. The use of prescription medication was two-and-a-half times higher among women with history of medical problems (adjusted OR = 2.59, 95% CI = 1.59–4.25, p = 0.0001). No other factor studied was independently associated with supplement or medication use. One in five women (20%) believed that herbs and vitamins were safer to use than prescription medication or were better at treating medical problems than prescription medicine, and one-third had not disclosed information about supplement use to their physicians.
Conclusions: Use of herbal remedies does not appear to be a replacement for conventional medicine among most pregnant Hispanic women. Patient education about the risks of alternative therapies may lead to a reduction in intake of alternative medicines and greater disclosure to medical practitioners among this ethnic group. (BIRTH 37:3 September 2010)