The aim of this review is to summarize the published evidence regarding the expectations of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) users. We conducted electronic searches in MEDLINE and a hand search of our own files. Seventy-three articles met our inclusion criteria. A wide range of expectations emerged. In order of prevalence, they included hope to influence the natural history of the disease; disease prevention and health/general well-being promotion; fewer side effects; being in control over one's health; symptom relief; boosting the immune system; emotional support; holistic care; improving quality of life; relief of side effects of conventional medicine; good therapeutic relationship; obtaining information; coping better with illness; supporting the natural healing process; and availability of treatment. It is concluded that the expectations of CAM users are currently not rigorously investigated. Future studies should have a clear focus on specific aspects of this broad question.