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An Argument for Herbal Medicine in Nursing

An Argument for Herbal Medicine in Nursing

Herbal medicine is a popular trend.

Terri Polick | NursingLink

Herbal medications have been around since the dawn of time. I’m sure that Eve sent Adam out to the Garden of Eden a few times to dig up some Valerian root because she needed something to calm her nerves.

Today, herbal supplements are more popular than ever. People are looking to live more naturally, and herbal supplements are especially favored among people who can’t afford the hefty price tags attached to pharmaceutical medications. However, the rise of herbal supplements presents a challenge for nurses and other health care professionals. After all, just because herbs come from the earth and are considered “all natural” doesn’t mean that they don’t present risks, especially when used in combination with other medications.

Judge Me Not

The World Health Organization estimates that 4 billion people worldwide use herbal remedies as a way of staying healthy, yet many patients are not forthcoming when asked if they take herbal supplements. It’s been my experience that patients don’t always feel comfortable telling their healthcare provider about these alternative medications because of the controversy surrounding their use.

One of my patients even confided that he’s never disclosed his use of herbal supplements because of an unpleasant encounter he had with his cardiologist. He had asked his doctor if he encouraged patients to use herbal supplements and in response, his doctor smirked and picked up a copy of the PDR off his desk and said, “Do you see this? I know everything in this book. Why should I waste my time knowing about worthless herbs?”

It’s important to be nonjudgmental when asking the patient about their use of alternative medicine. Despite personal opinions about herbal supplements, it’s your job as a nurse to get an accurate medical history from the patient. As with any other hot button issue (sexual health, for example), leave your personal judgment out of it.

Possible Complications

Knowing what herbs the patient is taking prevents possible negative outcomes. For example, Ginkgo is a top-selling herbal supplement used to increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving memory and preventing dementia. It’s prominently displayed in health food stores, but unfortunately, most patients don’t know that there’s a downside to its use: According to the PDR for Herbal Medicines, people with known risk factors for intracranial hemorrhage (systematic arterial hypertension, diabetes amyloid senile plaques) should avoid the use of Ginkgo due to reported cases of subarachnoid hemorrhage associated with the herb. Drug interactions have also occurred; patients taking anticoagulants, antiplatelets and aspirin, should not use Ginkgo due to reported cases of spontaneous bleeding associated with its use.

Next: More Complications >>

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