Diagnosis: From its inception in China more than 2,500 years ago, acupuncture has been used traditionally to diagnose, treat and prevent disease, as well as to improve general health. The key thing that makes traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) unique is how we diagnose, treat and prevent disease. In this article, I’ll cover how we diagnose. In future articles, I’ll cover treatment and prevention.
How a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnose can benefit you
A TCM approach to diagnosis includes using all of my senses to understand each patient. Each patient is unique, so I feel I need to get as much information from the patient as I can to make as complete a diagnosis as possible.
I ask the patient to fill out several pages of health information before the first visit. The health history questionnaire asks questions about why you are seeking TCM care, whether you have had any broken bones or surgeries, family medical history, and daily nutrition habits. It’s very detailed. There’s one page of symptoms that patients are asked to go through and circle or underline which they experience. This page helps me further create a pattern of function. I don’t look at one symptom and treat just that. I look at all of the symptoms to deduce a pattern of function that is occurring in your body, which is causing imbalance and pain or disease.
The pattern of function is one of the tools I use to come up with a diagnosis. I also check your tongue and pulses to confirm my diagnosis is correct. I watch your movements, listen to your breathing and the way you speak. I look at the color and shape and lines of your face. I palpate areas of pain or discomfort. I use all of my senses, including my sense of smell to deduce the pattern(s) of function that is/are causing the imbalance keeping your body from healing. Is this different? Many of you are already thinking, “My doctor doesn’t do that!” Well, here is another way TCM is as unique as you are.
Western vs. TCM Diagnosis
With a Western approach, you may receive a diagnosis of “migraines”, for example. You receive a medicine for migraines and are sent on your way. This is an oversimplification of how the medical doctor comes up with a diagnosis, but generally, the diagnosis is one or two or several symptoms or a disease. And, you are treated for that only. Sometimes the medicine works and sometimes it doesn’t. The reason is that your “migraine” may be caused by something entirely different than what someone else’s migraine is caused by. If you’re one of the lucky ones that has the same migraine as the population of people who took the medicine in the research studies, awesome, the medicine may work. If not, your migraines continue.
In TCM, your diagnosis might be Headache Due to Blood Stagnation or Headache Due to Blood Deficiency or Headache Due to Qi and Blood Deficiency. There are several other diagnoses for headaches, but the bottom line is, the diagnosis dictates the treatment. And each of those diagnoses has different treatment protocols with needles and herbs and formulas and cups and ear seeds or whatever is necessary from my TCM experience of natural treatment modalities. So, with TCM, your unique pattern of function is diagnosed and treated very specifically.
Details of TCM Diagnosis
I’m not going to go too far into this, because it’s a lot! What I want to get across though is that we have several methods we can use to make a diagnosis and many ways to break things down to make each diagnosis more specific. Earlier, I mentioned Blood Deficiency and Stagnation and Qi Deficiency. We can further diagnose the pattern of function as Liver Blood Deficiency or Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency or Spleen Qi Deficiency or Heart Qi Deficiency or Liver Blood Stagnation. Those are just a few examples of patterns of excess or deficiency differentiated by organ energy function.
We also differentiate patterns of function by channels of energy. There are 12 main channels of energy that run through the body and eight extraordinary vessels. Some patterns of symptoms are more conducive to this type of diagnosis. For example, a migraine may occur on the left side of the head every time and be more painful at one or two specific points on the head. The pain may be located on a channel. We treat the channel or channels.
We also use methods called Five Elements and the concept of yin and yang. There are also levels and stages of disease progression. We use eight principles or look at qi, blood and body fluids. There are so many methods of diagnosis we can call upon to help us narrow the pattern of disease, imbalance or pain that we can truly customize treatment for you and your specific patterns of imbalance.
This is why TCM has been used for thousands of years in China to treat everything from serious diseases to “mysterious” illnesses and ailments with “unknown” causes. TCM is used to treat pain as well as internal imbalances, such as menstrual disorders, infertility, skin disorders, poor immune systems, asthma and allergies, mental disorders, coughs and colds, and just about anything you may be experiencing.
Believe it or not, this is a simplification of how we diagnose from a TCM perspective. If nothing else, I hope it gets across that I see you as a unique individual with unique patterns of function, and I diagnose and treat based on your individual case. So, if you’ve been told you need surgery or medications with side effects, and you’re not sure that’s the route you want to take, consult with a TCM practitioner/acupuncturist as a second or third opinion. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you hear.
In the next article, I’ll go into treatment with TCM. If you have questions, call Day Wellness, and make an appointment for a consult. Come in and meet me, and I’ll help you discover how TCM can change the way you view medicine.