How we treat disease in Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has developed over the last 2000 years, and many scholars and doctors have contributed to its evolution over the centuries. In this blog, I will explain some of the basic concepts of this medicine. This will help you understand how we treat disease in Chinese Medicine. I will then follow it up with 2 cases of the same disease, and how they would be treated differently in this medicine.

Basic principles of TCM summarized

  1. there is no one treatment for a disease as each person may present with differing symptoms
  2. treatments are tailored to each person
  3. treatments focus on improving the health of the individual so they are less vulnerable to pathogenic factors (virus, bacteria, allergens) or environmental factors (like wind, cold etc)
  4. treatments focus on balancing emotional health as well as physical health
  5. treat the whole person and get to the root cause of the presenting disease

What Does A Typical Consult Entail?

When you go to a Chinese Medicine Practitioner or Acupuncturist, you will find that the therapist tends to ask a lot of questions about all your bodily systems… and some of the questions may seem unrelated to your reason for visit.

What kind of questions to expect?

For example, if you go in seeking treatment for migraines; the therapist will ask you about the exact location (temples, forehead, vertex, occiput) and the nature of the pain (pounding, dull, heavy etc).  In addition, the therapist might ask you questions about your stress levels, and if the headache is worse when stressed. The practitioner will be interested in knowing whether the headache is worse when exposed to wind and drafts, or worse when sitting in the sun. The therapist might check for generalized tension in the muscles in the neck and upper back, and ask you if there is history of emotional or physical trauma. You might have to explain about any acid reflux or digestive complaints and for females you might explain how the migraines are worse before, during or after your period.

The TCM Practitioner or Acupuncturist would also check your radial pulse on both wrists, and check your tongue colour and coating on the tongue.

Diagnosis and Treatment Plan in TCM

After the detailed consult, the TCM Practitoner and Acupuncturist is able to diagnose the root cause of your health problem and comes up with a treatment plan. The treatment can include acupuncture, herbs, dietary changes, or a combination of these methods.

Depending on the diagnosis, the therapist might also give lifestyle advice. They might suggest you wear a scarf when it is cold or windy outside, or avoid sitting outside in the mid day sun. They might also ask you to meditate to lower your stress levels or avoid stimulants like caffeine in the afternoon if you are also suffering from insomnia.

In essence, Chinese Medicine Treatments treat the individual as a whole. The practitioners look at the big picture and tailor the treatment for the person’s specific condition and complaints.

Same Disease, Different treatment!

I will give you another example on how the same disease can be treated differently in Chinese Medicine. Here are 2 kids with eczema but their eczema presentation and their other symptoms are quite different.

Case 1: 4 year old girl with eczema

This is a case of a 4 year old girl, suffering from eczema with red raised bumps, concentrated in the inner aspect of the elbow. The eczema is very itchy, hot to touch, and she can scratch and make it bleed. She also suffers from chronic constipation, in which the stools are like pebbles. She sweats a lot from head while sleeping at night, and her pillow can be wet from sweat. Her tongue is red, and there are some raised red bumps at tip, and her pulse is a bit rapid.

For this case, the root cause of the eczema is excess heat in the body causing loss of body fluids (excess sweating especially at night time), making the skin red and dry, and the stools dry and difficult to eliminate.

The treatment should include foods, herbs and acupuncture points to clear heat, move the bowel, clear the toxins and clear the skin. Some of the foods that can help this condition are leafy green vegetables, mung beans, water melon, drinking more fluids, and consuming mint tea.

Case 2: 2 year old boy with eczema

Here is a case of a 2 year old boy, suffering from eczema on the face, arms and legs. The eczema has a yellowish exudate and is a bit bumpy and crusty. In addition, he is drooling a lot because he is teething. He has to wear a bib on his clothes which needs to be changed repeatedly as he can get wet and cold on his chest because of the drool. Lately he is catching colds easily, his face is pale, and he been experiencing asthmatic episodes. His breathing is laboured during an asthmatic episode with a wheeze, but he does not cough much. He is very vulnerable to wind and cold weather, and his nose starts leaking on any exposure. His tongue is pink, but is very wet with a lot of drool.

For this case, the root cause of eczema is qi deficiency with excess dampness in the body. The symptoms of qi deficiency are – catching colds easily, pale face, vulnerable to wind and cold weather, not much energy to cough despite the phlegm in lungs. His symptoms of dampness are – eczema with exudate, phlegm in lungs, asthma, excessive drool when teething, wheezing.

The treatment plan will include food, herbs and acupuncture points to clear the dampness and improve the energy levels to clear his lungs of mucus, and to clear his skin. The treatment will also focus on his digestive system to transform nutrients properly, and make him less susceptible to the elements and pathogens. He will have to stop consuming sugar, dairy, cold drinks and raw vegetables to reduce the dampness in his body. Adding scallions, ginger based broths, aduki beans, yams can help warm his body, get rid of dampness, and strengthen his body.

Treat the Patient, not just the disease!

As you can see from the 2 cases of the same disease, it is very important to look at the whole picture. By treating the person as a whole, we can get to the root cause of the disease and also treat the presenting symptoms.

I hope that helps provide some clarity as to what to expect in a treatment session with a TCM Practitioner or Acupuncturist. Please write to me at anu@anusahgal.com if you have any questions or comments and I will be happy to answer your queries. If you like this write up, you can subscribe to my blog at http://anusahgal.com/.

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