Many Americans use medical treatments that are not part of mainstream medicine. When you are using these types of care, it may be called complementary, integrative, or alternative medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with mainstream medical care.
Complementary Versus Alternative
More than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches developed outside of mainstream Western, or conventional, medicine. When describing these approaches, people often use “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:
- If a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”
- If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
True alternative medicine is uncommon. Most people who use non-mainstream approaches use them along with conventional treatments.