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Many Americans Use Prayer for Health Concerns

Chicago - An estimated one-third of adults use prayer, in addition to conventional medical care and complementary and alternative therapies, for health concerns, according to an article in the April 26 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, many Americans believe in the healing power of prayer. While there is no proven therapeutic efficacy of prayer, associations between spirituality and better health outcomes have been described, the article states.

Anne M. McCaffrey, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues investigated the prevalence and patterns of the use of prayer for health concerns.

The researchers conducted a national survey of 2,055 people (age 18 or older) between October 1997 and February 1998 on the use of prayer. Data were also collected on sociodemographics, use of conventional medicine, and use of complementary and alternative medical therapies.

The researchers found that 35 percent of respondents used prayer for health concerns, and that 75 percent of these people prayed for wellness, and 22 percent prayed for specific medical conditions. Of those praying for specific medical conditions, 69 percent found prayer very helpful. Participants who were older than 33 years, female, attained an education beyond high school, had depression, chronic headaches, back and/or neck pain, digestive problems or allergies were all more likely to use prayer.

In summary, we found that prayer for health concerns is a highly prevalent practice, the authors write. Prayer is most often directed toward wellness and used in conjunction with conventional medical care. People who use prayer for health concerns report high levels of perceived helpfulness but rarely discuss their use of prayer with their physicians. Physicians should consider exploring their patients spiritual practice to enhance their understanding of their patients response to illness and health.

Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:858-862, archinternmed.com. Editors Note: This project was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health; The John E. Fetzer Institute, Kalamazoo, Mich. (Dr. Eisenberg); The American Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Ill. (Dr. Eisenberg); Institutional National Research Service Award for Training in Alternative Medicine Research, National Institutes of Health (Dr. McCaffrey); and a Mid-Career Investigator Award from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health (Dr. Phillips).

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