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Definition of Complementary medicine

Complementary medicine: A group of diagnostic and therapeutic disciplines that are used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery.

Complementary medicine is different from alternative medicine. Whereas complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a physician.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can include the following:

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