“Allopathic medicine” is a term that is sometimes used to refer to modern or mainstream medicine. Other names for allopathic medicine include:
- conventional medicine
- mainstream medicine
- Western medicine
- orthodox medicine
Allopathic medicine is also called allopathy. It’s a health system in which medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals are licensed to practice and treat symptoms and diseases.
Treatment is done with:
- other therapies and procedures
Other types or approaches to medicine are referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), or integrative medicine.
Alternative medicine uses non-mainstream approaches only. When non-mainstream approaches are used “instead of” conventional medicine, this is called alternative medicine.
Integrative medicine uses all approaches, both conventional and non-mainstream. The focus is on treating the whole person, rather than treating only a specific symptom or condition. A non-mainstream treatment is called “complementary” when it used alongside conventional medicine.
Some of the complementary approaches used in integrative medicine
- tai chi
The word “allopathic” comes from the Greek “allos” — meaning “opposite” — and “pathos” — meaning “to suffer.”
This word was coined by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the 1800s. It roughly refers to treating a symptom with its opposite, as is often done in mainstream medicine.
For example, constipation might be treated with a laxative.
Hahnemann was interested in other approaches based more on ancient principles of treating “like with like.” He later left mainstream medical practice and is considered to be the founder of homeopathy.
Allopathic medicine doctors and other healthcare professionals use a range of treatments to treat infection, illness, and disease. These include prescription drugs like:
- antibiotics (penicillin, amoxicillin, vancomycin, augmentin)
- blood pressure medications (diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors)
- diabetes drugs (metformin, sitagliptin, DPP-4 inhibitors, thiazolidinediones)
- migraine medications (ergotamines, triptins, antinausea drugs)
Some types of prescription drugs replace hormones when the body can’t make enough or any of a certain type, such as:
- insulin (in diabetes)
- thyroid hormones (in hypothyroidism)
Allopathic medicine professionals may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications like:
- pain relievers (acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen)
- muscle relaxers
- cough suppressants
- sore throat medications
- antibiotic ointments
Common allopathic medicine treatments also include:
- surgery and surgical procedures
- radiation treatments
Allopathic medicine is quite different today than it was in the 1800s. Modern or mainstream medicine works to treat symptoms and illness. But it also helps to prevent illness and disease.
In fact, allopathic doctors can specialize in preventative medicine. This branch of mainstream medicine is overseen by the American College of Preventive Medicine. Prophylactic care is treatment to prevent an illness from happening. It’s used in a variety of mainstream medical fields.
Preventative care in allopathic medicine includes:
- vaccinations to prevent serious life-threatening illness in infants, children, and adults
- prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection after a surgery, wound, or very deep cut
- prediabetes care to help prevent diabetes
- dietary changes and exercise to help prevent serious complications like heart disease and stroke
- education programs to prevent development of health issues such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
Osteopathy is another type of healthcare. Osteopaths treat conditions with medical treatments as well as manipulation and massage of muscles, bones, and joints.
In much of the world, osteopaths aren’t considered physicians. However, in the United States, osteopathic doctors are licensed physicians and surgeons.
As with other physicians, osteopaths graduate from medical schools. Osteopathic doctors must pass the same national board exams that all physicians do. They also undergo the same residency training programs as other doctors.
The main difference is that osteopathic doctors have the title DO instead of MD. You’ll likely not notice any difference in your treatment from a physician or surgeon who is a DO rather than an MD. A DO might recommend complementary treatments along with standard medications or procedures.
Homeopathic medicine is also known as homeopathy and is often added to mainstream medicine, used as a complementary/integrative approach. “Homeo” means “similar to” or “like.” This type of healthcare is often considered to be the opposite of allopathic medicine.
According to the
- Like cures like. This means that illness and disease are treated with substances that cause similar symptoms in healthy people.
- Law of minimum dose. A lower dose of medication is thought to have a greater effect than a higher dose.
Homeopathic practitioners aren’t licensed medical doctors. Most homeopathy medicines are natural substances that come from plants or minerals, like:
- phosphoric acid
Homeopathic treatments aren’t prescription medications. Additionally, homeopathy medicines usually aren’t regulated or tested like medications used in allopathic or mainstream medicine.
Treatments and doses are different from person to person.
Allopathic medicine or mainstream medicine is a system of healthcare. It has had the most evidence-based scientific research, data collection, and drug testing. It’s also the most regulated by a neutral party like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the American Medical Association.
However, non-mainstream approaches to medicine have been used for generations in some cases. The action of certain long-used natural products and mind-body approaches are getting some research to support their use. More testing, research, and regulation is needed.
Allopathic or modern medical schools have recently added more study and information on how food and nutrition can help prevent and treat disease. More education is being offered on integrative approaches and potential interactions with mainstream medicine.
Other areas of study in allopathic medicine include exercise and reducing the use of antibiotics and other medications that may have harmful effects.
No healthcare system is perfect. Combining integrative medicine with allopathic or mainstream medicine may work in treating people with some types of illnesses or ailments.
Any kind of medical treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Be sure your primary care practitioner is aware of all treatments you are using.
- Abbott RB, et al. (2011). Medical student attitudes toward complementary, alternative and integrative medicine. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/985243/
- Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: What’s in a name? (2021).
- Jarvis WT. (2000). Misuse of the term “allopathy.” https://www.ncahf.org/articles/a-b/allopathy.html
- Lang JGC. (2014). The four medical theses of Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0967772014526347
- Preventive medicine. (n.d.). https://www.acpm.org/page/preventivemedicine
- What is a DO? (n.d.). https://osteopathic.org/what-is-osteopathic-medicine/what-is-a-do/
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