Is complementary or alternative medicine right for you?

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You may have heard about complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) and wondered if it’s right for you. The answer? It depends.

These treatments can take a lot of different forms, and while some are generally safe, others can be dangerous. The risks can be higher when you have a weakened immune system, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) or are taking prescription medicines. Before you try anything new, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide if it’s safe or not.

What is CAM?

While complementary and alternative medicines are usually used together, they’re not exactly the same. Complementary medicine is used along with standard care, while alternative medicine is used instead of standard care. Standard care is the therapy and medicines that your transplant team gives you.

When used along with your doctor’s recommended care and advice, some people say their complementary care helps them manage their symptoms, lower stress and improve their sense of well-being. Other people have reported no benefit.

Is CAM safe for me?

Penny, transplant recipient, practicing yoga

Generally safe CAM therapies include those that help with relaxation, well-being and movement such as:

  • Meditation and prayer
  • Guided imagery
  • Massage
  • Art and music therapy
  • Yoga

Potentially dangerous CAM include those that go against your health care team’s advice, such as:

  • Quitting or substituting a doctor-recommended medicine or treatment
  • Taking certain vitamins, supplements or herbs, that may interfere with your prescription medicines

Other CAM therapies may not be against your doctor’s advice, but you should still be careful. Talk with your doctor first if you’re considering:

  • Special diets. Certain foods could be harmful. For example, even something that seems harmless, like grapefruit or grapefruit juice, can actually cause problems with some medicines.
  • Acupuncture. When not performed in the right way, acupuncture could hurt you and cause infections and bleeding.

Questions to ask your doctor
Here are some questions to ask your doctor if you’re thinking about using CAM:

  • What benefit could I expect?
  • What are the risks?
  • Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
  • Are there any potential side effects?
  • How might it affect my current treatment?

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