The term "complementary medicine" sometimes combines very different therapeutic approaches. They understand themselves - as the name implies - as a supplement to the classical "conventional medicine".
The following is important to emphasize: Complementary medical methods should only be complementary - in the sense of an integrative medicine - and not instead of the "conventional medical" measures. Their goal is therefore to support the treatment success of a classic therapy. However, the commonly used term alternative medicine suggests an application rather than "conventional medicine" (as an alternative). Since in practice these methods are usually considered not as an alternative to "conventional medicine", but as a supplement, this term should rather be avoided.
Complementary medical methods are particularly prevalent in cancer, pain, anxiety and depression, but also asthma and allergies are among the 15 most common diseases in which they are used.
Why complementary medicine?
The use of complementary medical methods is steadily increasing in the Western world (4 out of 10 adults in the US). A look at the possible motivations or causes of this trend is important. Chronic diseases are often complex and influenced by many factors including genetics, environmental factors, diet, exercise, lifestyle, stress, occupation, socioeconomic status, education, culture and spirituality. It is obvious that many of these factors in the so-called "conventional medicine" (biomedicine or Western medicine) are insufficiently considered or even deliberately excluded. This is reflected not least in a change in the understanding of the disease of "conventional medicine". If illness was long considered as an unbalanced system (disturbance of homeostasis), in which the patient was in the foreground with his environment, then with the Mechanistic disease model brought the disease to the fore and the patient into the background.
The task of the doctor is seen in the elimination or treatment of the foreign body disease (often referred to as fight). The patient feels excluded as a passive spectator, even more so where the technical and linguistic complexity of biomedicine makes it difficult for the patient to participate and understand from the outset. In the concepts and treatments of complementary medical methods, patients as a person and a person as a whole often feel better integrated and understood.
The individual motivations to apply such approaches are manifold: the need to improve health and well-being as well as alleviate symptoms associated with chronic illnesses or side effects of conventional therapies. Many also feel the need for greater control of their own health or pursue a holistic health philosophy.
What are complementary medical methods?
The various complementary methods cover a very heterogeneous spectrum. They are based on different disease teachings - from ancient to modern approaches - and are generally aimed at the prevention and treatment of diseases.
The basics of the individual methods are thus very different. A feature of many methods is that they also include individual, energetic, mental and spiritual aspects and call themselves "holistic" and imply that it should be a treatment of body, mind and soul. Here, on the one hand, the great popularity and need for these methods, but certainly also the skepticism and criticism of many school physicians and natural scientists. Although many methods of complementary medicine from a scientific perspective can not be explained and the subjectivity and "energetic" aspects are in the foreground, so is the prejudice that these methods can then not work in general, certainly not correct. However, complementary medicine must face this criticism and prove its effectiveness (see end of article).
Who offers complementary medicine?
Complementary medical methods are offered not only by doctors, but also by members of other health professionals, such as Heilmasseure, physiotherapists, health care professionals, psychotherapists or occupational therapists. Some professions, such as Non-medical practitioner or osteopath, are not recognized health professions in Austria. The practice of medicine in Austria is only allowed to physicians or health professionals in certain areas. As a result, there is often a certain gray area in the field of complementary medicine. Therefore, make sure that you are only treated by doctors or therapists with appropriate qualifications!
Which complementary and alternative medical approaches are there?
Complementary and alternative medical methods can be grouped into broad groups. One distinguishes, for example:
- Natural products (herbs, minerals, vitamins, probiotics, dietary supplements and special diets)
- Mind-body-based methods (meditation, relaxation techniques, autogenic training, tai-chi, yoga, hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback, deep breathing, painting and music therapy)
- Body and Movement Based Methods (Massage, Chiropractic, Craniosacral Therapy, Osteopathy, Pilates) • Energy Field Based / Bioenergetic Methods (Therapeutic Touch, Magnetotherapy, Light Therapy, Prayer)
- or whole medical systems (Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy)
In which diseases are complementary methods useful?
There is no "disease" predestined to be treated by complementary methods. However, there are diseases with certain characteristics that make it sensible to look at them from an additional angle.
First and foremost there are diseases from the so-called functional form. These are disorders in which certain organs or systems do not "work" adequately, although an "objective" finding (such as blood changes or the like) is not detectable. These include, for example, certain forms of headache, indigestion or sleep disorders. Functional symptoms are often referred to as mood disorders. This term makes it clear that they are symptoms that disturb the well-being, but are often difficult to classify due to the lack of objective findings. The prerequisite is, of course, a thorough medical diagnosis.
Complementary medical methods can begin here, as most of them emphasize the subjective state of health and build up the therapeutic procedure. People with discomfort therefore often feel taken seriously and in good hands.
Also in diseases with chronic forms increasingly complementary methods are used. Many sufferers look for a long-term "tour" by conventional medicine their luck in other, perhaps more understanding healing methods. An altered or extended perspective (inclusion of personal health and individual lifestyle) can, in some cases, shorten or alter a chronic course of the disease. If school and complementary medicine support each other, it may be useful to consider a complementary therapy adapted to the individual needs of the seriously ill patient as an accompanying and supportive measure.
Especially in the case of life-threatening illnesses (for example tumor diseases), however, in the complementary medical field, exaggerated promises sometimes awaken false hopes and unfair dealings with the trust of the patients.
Are complementary therapies always safe?
Where there is an effect, it can also lead to side effects. Also in the case of complementary medicine, therefore, the statement applies: The dose makes the poison! For example, an over-intensive acupuncture treatment or massage can trigger a circulatory collapse or an excess of herbs can lead to undesired effects. In addition, of course, any natural product can cause an allergic reaction, especially if it is taken in a concentrated form, as is the case with essential oils. Even interactions of various substances are possible (St. John's wort, for example, reduces the effect of birth control pills).
In a broader sense, complementary medical methods become dangerous if therapists - with questionable medical competence - want to intervene in already performed conventional medical procedures. Unfortunately, it happens again and again that sensible conventional medical therapies or diagnostic procedures are discontinued because they do not fit into the worldview of the complementary medical therapist. Even if the concept of conventional medicine often seems to contradict the methods of naturopathic treatment, it is never sensible to abrogate previous therapeutic actions without authorization and thus to maneuver the patient into a sometimes dangerous situation. A therapist who does not seek or even exclude communication with other methods should be avoided.
Critical efficacy assessment
Methods of conventional medicine, especially drugs, have to undergo elaborate and rigorous checks on their efficacy and side effects (safety) before being approved by the health authorities. This is an essential difference to complementary approaches: For these usually such conditions do not apply. However, every kind of treatment should undergo a critical evaluation of efficacy, as conventional medicine does.
Although many complementary approaches often can not be explained from a scientific point of view, they should undergo examinations (studies) that check their effectiveness and risks. This is increasingly the case today: it is to a great extent possible to design studies in such a way that the individual approaches of the individual approaches can be adequately tested for effectiveness and risk.
Finally, the trend toward individual (personalized) medicine and patient care ("patient-centered medicine") is also apparent in conventional medicine. it should not be the disease itself, but the sick person (patient) with its different dimensions in the foreground. For all medical methods, they should primarily benefit the patient and not harm them. It should also be borne in mind that their use is not intended to deprive a patient of other useful therapies.