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Types of Complementary Medicine

Topic Overview

Though people often use the terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine interchangeably, there is a difference. A better understanding of these terms, along with the term integrative medicine, will help you to become more informed about complementary and alternative medicine.

  • Complementary medicine is a nonstandard treatment or medicine that you use together with conventional treatment or medicine. For example, acupuncture, when used to treat nausea and vomiting that accompany chemotherapy or postsurgery pain, is a complementary therapy.
  • Alternative medicine is a nonstandard treatment or medicine that you use instead of conventional medicine. If you use kava in place of prescription medicines such as benzodiazepines or tricyclic antidepressants to treat anxiety or depression, the kava is considered alternative medicine.
  • Integrative medicine is, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a combination of standard medical therapies and complementary or alternative therapies about which there is scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness. As practitioners of conventional Western medicine pay more and closer attention to the benefits of many complementary and alternative therapies and determine how to use or recommend them, the mainstream health care system becomes more integrative.

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By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised June 11, 2013

Last Revised: June 11, 2013

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