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Allopathic Medicine:

Meaning and History

Allopathic medicine is another term for conventional Western medicine. In contrast to complementary medicine (sometime known as alternative medicine), allopathy uses mainstream medical practices like diagnostic blood work, prescription drugs, and surgery.

An allopathic doctor is typically an MD, while osteopaths (DO), chiropractors (DC), and Oriental medical doctors (OMD) usually fall under the complementary medicine umbrella.

This article discusses the history of allopathic medicine, its uses, and its limitations. It also looks at the philosophical differences between conventional and alternative medicine and how these diverse disciplines complement one another.

What Is Allopathic Medicine?

Allopathic medicine refers to the practice of conventional Western medicine.2 The term allopathic medicine is most often used to contrast conventional medicine with complementary medicine.

Complementary medicine is a term for the role alternative medicine plays as a “complement” to allopathic medicine, but this meaning has become obscure in recent years.

Integrative medicine is the term that is being increasingly used to refer to the practice of combining the best of complementary medicine with the best of conventional medicine to manage and reduce the risk of disease.

History of Allopathy

The term allopathic medicine was coined in the 1800s to differentiate two types of medicine.4 Homeopathy was on one side, based on the theory that “like cures like.”5 The thought with homeopathy is that very small doses of a substance that cause the symptoms of a disease could be used to alleviate that disease.

In contrast, allopathic medicine was defined as the practice of using opposites: using treatments that have the opposite effects of the symptoms of a condition.

At the time, the term allopathic medicine was often used in a derogatory sense. It referred to radical treatments such as bleeding people to relieve fever. Over the years this meaning has changed, and now the term encompasses most of the modern medicine in developed countries.

Current Allopathic Practices

Today, allopathic medicine is mainstream medicine. The term is no longer derogatory and instead describes current Western medicine. Most physicians are considered allopathic providers.

Medical insurance covers most types of allopathic care, whereas complementary medicine is often an out-of-pocket cost.

Examples of allopathic medicine include everything from primary care physicians to specialists and surgeons.