Western medicine or conventional medicine as we know it, defines health as the absence of a dysfunction or disease. It usually uses drugs or surgery in the treatment of such dysfunctions or diseases. In the conventional medicine, the causes of the dysfunctions and diseases are considered as independent factors such as viruses or bacterias, aging, and biochemical imbalances.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Other healthcare approaches and healing therapies outside the conventional medicine are what are called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). They are various methods adopted from different parts of the world notably China, India, Africa Tibet and the Americas. Many of the treatment and healing techniques used in the complementary and alternative medicine are rooted in ancient indigenous systems and practices. While some of the practices have been generally accepted in mainstream medicine and have been included among the services offered in hospitals, some are not supported. The use of all appropriate therapeutic methods, including conventional and alternative medicine is described as integrative medicine.
CAM practices that are used in conjunction with conventional medicine are generally considered complementary medicine while those that are used on their own are called alternative medicine. Examples of CAM treatments include chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, therapeutic diets, massage, meditation and homeopathy.
What differentiates alternative medicine from conventional medicine is the basic philosophy it upholds. Its practices define health holistically, or as a balance of physical, emotional and spiritual systems in a person. The cause of illness then is believed to come from the disharmony among these systems. The treatment methods used by alternative medicine involve restoring the balance in the body and strengthening the body’s own defenses.
Applications of Alternative Medicine
The most common conditions for which people go to alternative medicine service providers to seek treatment are:
- Chronic back pain, joint pain or neck pain and related musculoskeletal problems
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Anxiety or depression
- Chest colds
- Sleeplessness and sleep problems
Patients also go for alternative medicine when they have serious life-challenging illnesses such as cancers, especially when conventional medicine treatment methods have been tried to no avail.
The acceptance of alternative medicine is growing dramatically. In 1997, 629 million visits of Americans to alternative medicine practitioners were recorded, a 47% increase over the visits recorded 7 years earlier. The visits to medical practitioners on the same year were only 386 million. A more recent figure in 2007 showed that 38% of adult Americans used alternative medicine treatment methods.
The effectiveness and safety provided by alternative therapies are a major consideration in the decision by patients on which heath care method to choose. Some therapies have been determined to be effective and safe in treating specific conditions. Examples are chiropractic adjustments to relieve back pains and other spinal symptoms, acupuncture and meditation for pain management, yoga to improve balance and herbal tea for wellness improvement. It is the successes in these areas that contribute to the acceptance of certain alternative medicine treatment options.