Topic Overview

People often use the terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine in place of each other. But there is a difference. Understanding the difference will help you to become more informed about this type of medicine.

  • Complementary medicine is a non-standard treatment or medicine that you use together with conventional treatment or medicine. One example is acupuncture. When it's used to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy or post-surgery pain, it is a complementary therapy.
  • Alternative medicine is a non-standard treatment or medicine that you use instead of conventional medicine. If you use kava in place of prescription medicines to treat anxiety or depression, it is alternative medicine.
  • Integrative medicine is a term for the approach that combines standard medical treatments and complementary treatments. Practitioners of conventional Western medicine are paying more and closer attention to the benefits of many complementary treatments. They are learning how to use or recommend them. And that makes the mainstream health care system more integrative.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofMay 22, 2015