From Puzzle to Picture –
And From Symptom to Diagnosis…
The diagnosis you receive from a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) might sound very unlike the diagnosis other doctors and health practitioners will give you, even if the process of diagnosis is not actually that different.
To diagnose means to identify the nature and cause of an illness, injury or complaint through evaluation of a patient’s signs, symptoms, history, examination and a review of any previous test results or treatment outcomes.
To give you a better idea of what to expect when you’re seeking help for your aches, pains and health concerns from a qualified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, below is an explanation of the diagnosis methods generally used.
The gathering of information required to form a diagnosis is usually quite thorough and involves the practitioner using many of his or her senses to question, observe, listen, feel and even smell.
Let’s elaborate a little on that and clarify what might happen in a TCM consultation…
- Questions about your main complaint and symptoms, your history and your general state of health will be asked. Regardless of the nature of your complaint this often includes questions about your digestion, sleep, energy levels, and for women also questions about menstrual cycles and if relevant pregnancies/fertility.
- Observations include looking at your tongue, skin, hair and nails, as well as checking your range of movement, if applicable. Occasionally looking down your throat or into your ears might also be required.
- Not only will the TCM practitioner listen to your answers to all the questions they ask, they also listen for the projection of your voice, as well as any indications of breathing problems, such as wheezing. Any noises including sneezes, sniffles, coughs, gurgling stomachs and cracking joints may be taken into account.
- In medical terms this is called palpation, which is the process of using one’s hands to examine the body. A TCM practitioner will check your radial pulses, maybe feel your abdomen and when appropriate also the problem area(s), such as legs, neck, back, elbow etc. This touch may be a light touch to simply feel the temperature or moisture of your skin, or it could involve firm pushing, pressing and massaging to locate areas of tightness and tenderness.
- The human body sends out signals through scents, both good and bad. The sense of smell is used very subtly by TCM practitioners to detect any unusual body scents. You might also be asked if you have noticed any unusual odors related to your sweat, urine, stools, or other discharges.
From a ‘puzzle’ of pieces of information to a health ‘picture’ with a pattern
Imagine an artist painting a picture with many little strokes of the paint brush. Close up the painting might look like a muddle of separate and random paint strokes and colours. However, when you step back and look at the painting in its entirety a clear and whole picture emerges.
A qualified TCM practitioner has extensive knowledge of the organs and bodily functions, and view you, the patient, in the context of your life and environment. With this understanding and knowledge TCM practitioners are like artists who put together a whole (health) ‘picture’ of you based on ‘the puzzle’ of smaller pieces of information gathered. When viewed as a ‘bigger picture’ a pattern of your imbalances or disharmonies emerges.
This pattern can explain not only your symptoms but also the cause(s) of your symptoms, and forms the basis of your diagnosis. This is called a differential diagnosis.
The diagnosis determines the treatment recommended.
We use Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment methods including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, massage, cupping, moxibustion, diet therapy and lifestyle advice to treat many aches, pains and health complaints. The treatments aim to treat YOU and not just your illness or symptoms.
By Chinese Medicine practitioner Christina Tolstrup, November 2016