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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

People with bleeding disorders face many challenges throughout their lives. Like many people with chronic health conditions, they often find benefit from therapies that are not part of traditional medical care. You may hear about treatments like these referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM treatments have not been proven to work through rigorous clinical testing, and are not always approved by a federal agency or recognized by insurance companies.

By definition, complementary medicine is used along with conventional medicine while alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. However, the term alternative medicine is often used more broadly to include complementary treatments.

As a person with a bleeding disorder, it is critical that you manage your health with certain treatments, such as factor infusions, prescribed by your healthcare provider. But you may consider complementary medicine as an additional source of treatment options.

Three important points to keep in mind if you are considering complementary medicine:

  1. You should not start any complementary therapy without talking to your physician first.
  2. Just because a treatment has not been proven to work in formal clinical testing does not mean it will not work for you.
  3. Complementary treatments are not always safer treatments—for example, some herbal supplements can actually interfere with the clotting process.

Types of Complementary Treatments

Complementary treatment takes many forms, some of which you may not have expected. Generally, they fall into several broad types:

  • Natural products. These are often in the form of dietary supplements and include herbal medicines, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Mind and body medicine. This approach focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. It includes meditation, yoga, acupuncture, deep breathing, hypnosis, and more.
  • Manipulative and body-based practices. This approach focuses on body systems and structures such as the bones, joints, soft tissues, and circulatory system, and includes spinal manipulation and massage.
  • Other types of CAM. Many other forms of CAM exist, including movement therapy, music therapy, and treatments based around energy fields.

Getting Started With Complementary Treatment

If you're interested in complementary treatment of any type, you should begin by speaking with your healthcare provider or Hemophilia Treatment Center (HTC) team.

A few important tips to keep in mind when considering a CAM therapy:

  • Learn as much as you can about any complementary treatment you are considering. Take some time to examine and evaluate scientific studies regarding the safety and effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Put as much consideration and time into selecting a practitioner of complementary medicine as you would any one of your healthcare providers who practice traditional medicine.
  • Before taking any dietary supplement, speak with your healthcare provider about potential risks or side effects. Many supplements can interfere with blood clotting.
  • Avoid replacing a conventional treatment with a complementary treatment that has not been proven safe and effective.
  • Have a conversation with every member of your health care team about any complementary treatments you are considering.

In many ways, complementary treatment should be approached in the same way as conventional treatment—by doing everything you can to ensure that you are making educated and informed choices.