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Complementary and alternative medicine

A traditional Chinese medicine pharmacyA traditional Chinese medicine pharmacyMedical treatments that are usually practised by healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses within a healthcare system are known as conventional, orthodox or mainstream medicine. Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are treatments that are not usually considered part of mainstream medicine. When these treatments are used alongside conventional medicine they are called complementary; when used instead of conventional medicine they are called alternative. CAM includes traditional medicine systems, herbal medicine and manual therapies, in which the body is pressed or massaged. 

Advisory leaflet about taking traditional medicinesAdvisory leaflet about taking traditional medicines

CAM or conventional?

There is a wide range of CAM treatments, many of which are based on principles and evidence that most scientists would not agree with. Some treatments are based on tradition or faith. This is unlike conventional medicine which usually bases its diagnoses and treatments on scientific evidence showing that they are safe and effective. Some CAM treatments are not part of conventional medical training, but are respected by some doctors.

Most people who choose CAM treatments continue to receive conventional treatments as well. It is important that they choose a complementary health practitioner who has been suitably trained and that they understand what benefits (and harm) might come from having such treatments.  

From ancient times until the 19th century, leeches were often used to suck blood, in the belief that blood loss was healing. Since the 1970s, doctors have again been using leeches (called hirudotherapy), to help with issues such as varicose veins and reconstructive surgery.

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