• How to Talk to Your Doctor About Complementary and Alternative Medicine

    rerun image Are you interested in trying a supplement or therapy that you think may fall under the category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? How do you bring up this topic with your doctor?

    A Look at CAM

    What exactly is CAM? Coming up with a definition is not simple. This is because CAM consists of a range of products, therapies, and systems of healing. Some of these may not be too dissimilar from what your doctor recommends.
    You can think of CAM as any behavior or treatment that could affect your health and that most conventional doctors do not incorporate into their practices. This does not mean, though, that your doctor cannot or will not address your questions about CAM.
    Examples of CAM therapies popular in the US include:

    Reasons for Starting the Discussion

    Why is it so important to make CAM a topic of conversation? While you may think that "natural" products or therapies are less likely to cause harm, the truth is that there can be dangerous side effects. You need to talk to your doctor about CAM because:
    • Some dietary supplements (eg, herbal remedies) can adversely affect the medicines you are taking.
    • CAM treatments may have unintended effects on chronic conditions you may have.
    • You and your doctor share the responsibility for making sure you receive the best care possible. This means providing her with any information that can potentially influence your health.

    Talking Points

    Follow these guidelines to prepare for a discussion about CAM:
      Create a list and share it with your doctor and other healthcare providers. Your list should include:
      • Any conditions you have
      • Over-the-counter and prescription medicines that you take
      • Herbs and other dietary supplements that you take
      • CAM treatments you use (eg, massage therapy, acupuncture) or are thinking of trying
    • Learn as much as you can about the CAM treatment that interests you. Reliable websites, like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, provide background information on a range of therapies and, in some cases, research results.
    • As you learn more about the CAM treatment, you are sure to have many questions. Write them down and share them with your doctor. For example, you will want to find out if the treatment is safe considering your:
      • Overall health
      • Medical history
      • Medications and supplements
    • If you still feel unsure about whether CAM is a good choice for you, ask your doctor. Do not be concerned that she will treat you any differently. The best healthcare providers are eager to discuss any promising strategy intended to improve the health of their patients.
    Remember, too, that all of the professionals who make up your healthcare team (eg, doctors, nurses, specialists, pharmacists) rely on you to share information with them. If you are planning to try a new CAM treatment or have already been using one, do not keep this to yourself! It is in your best interest to speak up.


    American Academy of Family Doctors http://www.aafp.org/

    National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine http://nccam.nih.gov/


    Canadian Family Doctor http://www.cfpc.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/


    Are you considering complementary and alternative medicine? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/decisions/consideringcam.htm. Updated June 2010. Accessed September 14, 2011.

    Tips for talking with your health care providers about CAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/decisions/talkingaboutcam.htm. Updated August 2011. Accessed September 14, 2011.

    What is complementary and alternative medicine? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/. Updated July 2011. Accessed September 14, 2011.

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