People with minor illnesses may be more likely to use CAM therapies as their treatment options within conventional healthcare may be limited. Healthcare providers are less inclined towards the management of non-medically serious disorders, although these can have a significant impact on patient’s quality of life.
The terms ‘alternative’, ‘holistic’ and ‘complementary’ are commonly used interchangeably as a way of referring to any health intervention that lies outside of conventional medical approaches. Such therapies and approaches can be categorized into five domains:
Knight, Clare. “Alternative and Western Medicine”. News-Medical . 24 September 2021. .
The use of CAM is prevalent among patient populations. A recent meta-analysis of people with cancer showed that approximately half use some form of CAM during their illness. A large-scale survey of people with asthma showed similar proportions trying CAM to manage symptoms, despite perceiving such therapies as only moderately useful.
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Holistic medicine refers to a philosophy that believes treatments should encompass all three elements of the human: an integration of the mind, body and spirit. Illness and injury are interpreted as an imbalance of the mind-body-spirit, and all three must be treated together to achieve wellness. In holistic medicine, an example could include combining massage treatments with mindfulness and Reiki.
This is also affected by issues of access to treatment: welfare-based health systems are unlikely to provide treatment for minor illnesses, whereby CAM therapies can be directly commissioned by the patient.
Complementary medicine is treatments that are given in conjunction with conventional or mainstream medicines in the treatment of ill health. Examples include chiropractic treatments, dietary interventions and acupuncture . It is perhaps more accurate to refer to the treatments which fall into these five domains as complementary and alternative medicine .
Many healthcare practitioners incorporate therapies that exist outside of conventional medicine in their practices. The following article discusses the differences between alternative and Western medicine and explores what might account for the increasing use of alternative models.
In actuality, the three terms describe a different approach.
Alternative therapies have become increasingly popular. Half the global population use some form of alternative medicine annually and, as they typically exist outside of Government-backed healthcare systems, pay directly for such services.
Whilst Western medicine is rooted in the fight against infectious disease; identifying infectious agents and delivering effective treatments, modern healthcare systems are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by complex chronic diseases.
For those at the most severe end of the disease spectrum, conventional medical interventions may be effective in altering the pathological course of the illness, but to the patient are perceived as toxic or may have unpleasant side effects. Whilst there is no scientific evidence that CAM therapies can treat such conditions, they do induce pleasant side effects. CAM therapies may therefore be more in tune with patients, who simply want to feel better rather than be healed.
Knight, Clare. 2021. Alternative and Western Medicine . News-Medical, viewed 24 September 2021, s-medical.net/health/Alternative-and-Western-Medicine.aspx.
One group of patients who feel particularly poorly served by conventional medicine are those with unexplained symptoms or syndromes. In these cases, CAM therapies may be able to provide homeopathic or naturopathic diagnoses. western medicine typically consists of This can be relieving and validating for patients.
Knight, Clare. “Alternative and Western Medicine”. News-Medical. s-medical.net/health/Alternative-and-Western-Medicine.aspx. .
Alternative medicine refers specifically and only to the second domain outlined above: a group of practices, products and systems of healthcare that currently exist outside of conventional medicine.
Alternative medicine includes herbal therapies. Image C redit: Pat_Hastings / Shutterstock.com
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People with HIV/AIDS infection appear to be prolific users of CAM therapies, despite a paucity of evidence for their effectiveness. In population studies, the use of CAM ranges from 9% to 65%, dependent on the form of treatment. It is clear that CAM therapies are used frequently and increasingly.
Such diseases which include dementia , diabetes and obesity are typically late-onset, thus their increase is driven by an aging population. Attempts to develop treatments have been inadequate and costly, and attention has been increasingly drawn to their prevention.
Knight, Clare. . Alternative and Western Medicine. News-Medical. Retrieved on September 24, 2021 from s-medical.net/health/Alternative-and-Western-Medicine.aspx.
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Since graduating from the University of Cardiff, Wales with first-class honors in Applied Psychology in 2004, Clare has gained more than 15 years of experience in conducting and disseminating social justice and applied healthcare research.
Acupuncture treatment is a from of alternative medicine. Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
One interesting theme is that patients who use CAM therapies most often are those with either life-threatening or terminal illnesses or those with chronic but minor illnesses .
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Western or traditional medicine typically encompasses a system in which medical and healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, therapists and pharmacists manage and treat disease using conventional evidence-based practices such as drugs, surgery, lifestyle changes or treatment protocols. Over the past 60 years, Western medicine has made significant gains in healthcare including a 60% reduction in the death rate from heart disease, a 75% reduction in the death rate from HIV/AIDS and a 16% reduction in the death rate from cancers.
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