Foreign Medicine

News Brief: July/August 2009

Patients from different ethnic groups often react to pain in unexpected ways – differences that can have an important impact on medical care, according to ongoing research by the Ethnomedicine Working Group of the Medical University of Vienna.

In some cultures, hiding pain is a matter of pride. However, stoicism and false signals can lead to misdiagnosis, dangerously wrong treatment and unnecessary suffering.

African patients are very introverted, leading some medical professionals to conclude that they are immune to pain, which is of course not true.

“It is therefore of concern to us to show medical students how diseases are seen in other cultural areas,” Prinz said.

These differences can be a problem for foreigners living in a new country.  Every ethnicity and society has its own way of treating diseases, which are sometimes dismissed by modern doctors as superstition and witchcraft. And when confronted with a medical system they are not used to, foreigners can find it difficult to express their ailments to the doctor.

According to Prinz, Western, or so-called “modern” medicine needs to look at foreign medical treatment practices and implement some aspects that could be of use here, as Western societies have done with TCM, ayurveda and acupuncture, for example.


Adapted from: “Krankheit ist nicht gleich Krankheit,”  Die Presse, Jun. 24, 2009

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