Complementary medicine is treatments used in addition to the conventional therapies prescribed by a physician, whereas; alternative medicine offers a competing (or alternate) viewpoint.
Although Alternative medicine is often categorized in the same grouping using the umbrella term "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" or CAM, Complementary treatments are generally accepted by the medical profession and alternative treatments are not.
Alternative medicine has been defined as "therapeutic or preventative health care practices, such as homeopathic, naturopathy, chiropractic, and herbal medicine, that do not follow generally accepted methods and may not have a scientific explanation for their effectiveness.
Once an alternative medical approach has been shown to be safe and effective it may then be adopted by conventional practitioners and no longer considered "alternative".
Many people utilize mainstream medicine for diagnosis and basic information, while turning to alternatives for what they believe to be health-enhancing measures. However, studies indicate that a majority of people use alternative approaches in conjunction with conventional medicine.
The use of alternative medicine appears to be increasing. A 1998 study showed an increase of 33.8% in 1990 to 42.1% in 1997.
Advocates of alternative medicine hold that the various treatment methods are effective in treating a wide range of major and minor medical conditions. While proponents argue that alternative medicine is not scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data with scientific evidence.
A major objection to alternative medicine is that it is done in place of conventional medical treatments. As long as alternative treatments are used alongside conventional treatments, the majority of medical doctors find most forms of complementary therapies acceptable.
There is a very wide range of alternative and complementary treatments available with some being more scientifically based while others seem to border on superstitions.
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Medicine is ever changing, what is viewed as being alternative changes over time.
Richard Dawkins, Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford stated: "If a healing technique is demonstrated to have curative properties in properly controlled double blind trials, it ceases to be alternative. It simply...becomes medicine" and joins a branch of medicine called complementary medicine.
Many Complementary medicine therapies are considered holistic, which means that they address the whole person. And in today's society, many patients are beginning to demand a more holistic approach to their health care from their physicians.
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