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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A survey describing the use of complementary therapies and medicines by women attending a family planning clinic

Caroline A Smith1*, Deborah J Bateson2 and Edith Weisberg2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia

2 Family Planning New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:224  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-224

Published: 11 September 2013



Complementary medicines (CMs) are widely used by women. Although, women in Australia are frequent users of CM, few studies have examined their utilisation by women attending a family planning service. The aim of this study was to examine (i) the extent of and type of CM, (ii) women’s views about safety and efficacy, and (iii) the factors influencing women’s decision-making.


A cross-sectional survey using a convenience sample of 221women aged greater than 18 years attending a family planning (FP) service was undertaken over a two week period in Sydney, Australia. An anonymous self-administered questionnaire was designed to examine women’s current and previous use of CMs, their attitudes towards safety and effectiveness, the factors influencing their decision-making, and their disclosure of CM use to a FP health professional. Demographic questions were designed to describe the diversity of the participants. Logistic regression was used to examine the association between CM use and demographics.


Sixty-seven percent of women surveyed were currently using CMs, and 83% reported use during the previous 12 months. Most respondents utilised CMs to maintain their general health or for prevention of ill health. Over 30% of women lacked information to make an informed response to questions examining their views about the safety of CMs. Forty-four percent of participants stated they discussed their use of CMs with their FP providers. The main reason why women did not mention CMs was they did not see the relevance to their consultation (43%). Lower rates of CM use were found for younger women (OR 0.24, 95% CI 0.09-0.61), and those not completing high school (OR 0.44, 95% 0.20-1.00).


The use of CM is very common among women attending an Australian FP clinic, however our findings may not be generalisable to all women. We identified a notable gap in women’s awareness of the potential for interactions between CM and prescribed medication. Our findings also emphasise the need for healthcare providers to initiate discussions with clients about their utilisation of CM.

Complementary therapies and medicines; Women’s health; Reproductive health; Family planning; Survey