Open Access Open Badges Research article

Usage patterns and adverse experiences in traditional Korean medicine: results of a survey in South Korea

Hyeun-Kyoo Shin1*, Soo-Jin Jeong1, Dae Sun Huang1, Byoung-Kab Kang2 and Myeong Soo Lee2

Author Affiliations

1 Herbal Medicine Research Division, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, 483 Expo-ro, Yusung-gu, Daejeon 305-811, South of Korea

2 Medical Research Division, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, 483 Expo-ro, Yusung-gu, Daejeon 305-811, South of Korea

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:340  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-340

Published: 1 December 2013



Although traditional medicine (TM) in South Korea is included in the national health care system, it is considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and not mainstream medicine. Therefore, the lack of statistical data regarding the usage and adverse experiences of traditional Korean medicine (TKM) makes difficult to understand the current status of TM. In this study, we aimed to report usage patterns and adverse experiences on TKM targeting consumers in South Korea.


A total of 2000 consumers participated in the survey on usage and adverse experiences in 2008. Among the 2,000 participants, 915 (45.8%) had taken herbal medicine or received traditional medicinal therapies; these individuals were further surveyed on the internet or in an interview.


The usage rate was higher among women and among patients in their 30s. Of the total TKM usage, acupuncture accounted for 36.7%, and herbal medicine accounted for 13.4%. Regarding the frequency of use of TKM, 73.8% of patients reported using TM less than 5 times in 1 year. Of the 915 respondents, 8.2% of individuals had some type of adverse experience resulting from TKM. Adverse experiences were primarily caused by acupuncture and herbal medicines, and they primarily involved diseases of the digestive system and skin. The incidence of adverse experiences was less than 3.7% for acupuncture and 3.8% for herbal medicine. Overall, the incidence rate of adverse experiences for TKM for the entire population was 0.04 per 10,000 individuals.


The medical usage and occurrence of adverse events on TKM should be surveyed periodically, and the statistical trends should be analysed. The disparity between the survey results for traditional herbal medicines and medical practices, and those for the national pharmacovigilance system or academic reports of adverse experiences should be examined. The national pharmacovigilance system must be improved to compensate for the disparities. Policies and regulations are required to enhance the reporting of adverse experiences not only for herbal medicines but also for traditional medicinal therapies.