Getting realigned by a chiropractor might feel great, but what if you were greeted during a future appointment with a warning that neck manipulation could contribute to a stroke?
This week, the Connecticut State Board of Chiropractors will hold hearings week to decide if patients should be warned of alleged possible risk.
The hearings come after patients who were injured during treatment lobbied for legislation that would require chiropractors to notify patients.
One of these patients is Brittmarie Harwe, 43, who finally got to taste the meal she had been yearning for: baked cod after 16 years of living with a feeding tube. She suffered a stroke at age 26 after a visit to a chiropractor for a sore neck and shoulder.
"We've finally gotten to this point. It's taken so long, which is amazing to me," said Harwe, who helped create the Connecticut-based Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group, working with other stroke victims who contend their strokes were caused by chiropractic manipulations.
"If the people have a chance, given the information, they can avoid death or years of disability. It's that simple," said Harwe, who has been urging the General Assembly for the past several years to pass legislation to make patients aware of the possible risks.
Chiropractors have successfully fought legislative efforts. Their profession, they say, has been unfairly singled out and they discount the alleged link between stroke and neck manipulation.
"Limiting informed consent to one profession, one procedure, does not leave (patients) fully informed," said Matthew N. Pagano, a Winsted chiropractor and spokesman for the Connecticut Chiropractic Association, one of two trade associations in the state. "We believe that true informed consent happens best in the form of a discussion between a doctor and a patient."
Pagano, who said he regularly discusses potential risks and benefits of chiropractic treatments with his patients, maintains that recent research does not support the claim that chiropractic adjustment causes stroke -- an argument that patient advocates reject.
The seven-member State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which includes four chiropractors, is scheduled to hold its hearing Tuesday and Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building. It is expected to eventually decide whether to issue a declaratory ruling that would require chiropractors across the state to warn patients about stroke risk.
Chiropractors and patient advocates across the country are watching the Connecticut case carefully. If a declaratory ruling is issued, it is believed that it would be the first in the nation.
Representatives from the Virginia-based International Chiropractors Association, considered the world's oldest international chiropractic professional organization, is scheduled to testify at the board hearing.
State lawmakers in Connecticut have been hesitant to pass a law mandating chiropractors inform their patients of stroke risk. State Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, said he questions whether it's appropriate for the General Assembly to step into the middle of this battle and decide whether there is a specific risk that patients should be warned about.