Western Medicine

Doctors, surgeons and other healthcare providers who practice Western medicine rely on evidence-based medicine to diagnose and treat symptoms and conditions. Western medicine uses scientifically proven methods to improve your overall health. Your provider may also use complementary medicine, including Chinese (Eastern) medicine, to ease symptoms.

What is Western medicine?

Western medicine is the traditional healthcare you receive in the United States. It’s the care you receive when you go to a doctor’s office, medical clinic, hospital or urgent care. This type of medical care uses techniques based on scientific evidence. Healthcare providers rely on proven methods to diagnose and treat conditions and improve your overall health.

Medical schools in the U.S. primarily teach Western medicine. Today, Western medicine is the most common type of healthcare in the United States and much of the world.


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What is the definition of Western medicine?

Western medicine has its roots in the Western part of the world, namely Greece. Experts credit the Greek physician Hippocrates as being the father of Western medicine. Hippocrates and Hippocratic physicians believed that illnesses were the result of imbalances between blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm (what they called “the humors”). These physicians looked for bodily causes of illnesses. Their treatments focused on restoring this humoral balance.

What are other names for Western medicine?

Western medicine goes by different names. You may also hear these terms:

  • Allopathic medicine.
  • Biomedicine.
  • Conventional medicine.
  • Mainstream medicine.
  • Orthodox medicine.
  • Traditional medicine.


Who provides Western medicine?

These healthcare providers may offer Western medicine:

  • Physicians, surgeons and physician assistants.
  • Nurses and nurse practitioners.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Dentists.
  • Physical, occupational and speech therapists.
  • Psychiatrists and mental health providers.

What are Western medicine examples?

Western medicine may include:

  • Blood tests, urine tests, X-rays and imaging scans.
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes.
  • Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications.
  • Surgical procedures.


What are the goals of Western medicine?

Providers of Western medicine focus on:

  • Curing a disease (when possible).
  • Diagnosing conditions, sometimes through advanced technology and imaging scans.
  • Easing and managing symptoms to improve quality of life.
  • Preventing diseases.
  • Slowing and stopping disease progression.

What is the difference between Western medicine and Chinese (Eastern) medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focuses on a vital life force energy called Qi or Chi. Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that illness occurs when there’s an imbalance between yin and yang. These are the components that make up your life force.

Chinese medicine is also known as Eastern medicine or East Asian medicine. This is because it has its roots in the Eastern part of the world, namely China.

Although Chinese medicine is more than 3,000 years old, it is not well-researched. Compared to Western medicine practices, there are fewer scientific studies supporting its effectiveness. There are evidence-based findings in support of some Chinese medicine practices. That’s why some Western medicine practitioners incorporate them as complementary therapy. For example, studies suggest that acupuncture may ease nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.

What are Eastern medicine examples?

Traditional Chinese (Eastern) medicine practitioners focus on restoring balance and proper energy flow. They may use a combination of methods, including:

  • Acupuncture: The application of needles and pressure to your skin.
  • Cupping: The placement of warmed cups to your skin. Cupping creates a suction force that draws blood to your skin.
  • Herbal remedies: The use of plant-based teas, pills, ointments and other herbal supplements.
  • Moxibustion (moxa treatment): The burning of dried herbal plants (typically mugwort) on or near your skin.
  • Tai chi: A noncombative martial art that focuses on breathing techniques and slow movements.

What is the difference between Western medicine and complementary medicine?

Complementary medicine refers to treatments you may receive alongside traditional Western medicine treatments. These additional treatments supplement your traditional treatment options. You may also hear the terms:

  • Alternative medicine.
  • Holistic medicine.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Eastern medicine techniques can be complementary therapies to Western medicine. When healthcare providers combine Western medicine and complementary medicine, you receive integrative medicine.

What are complementary medicine examples?

Types of complementary medicine include:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

When you visit your primary care physician or go to a hospital, you receive traditional Western medical care. Western medicine focuses on scientifically proven methods for diagnosing and treating illnesses. Still, many providers of Western medicine also use complementary medicine therapies. These may include Chinese or Eastern medicine techniques like acupuncture. Some complementary therapies, like herbal supplements, can interact with Western medicine treatments. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before trying a new therapy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/21/2022.

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