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The Diagnosis Process in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses much different techniques to diagnosis health problems than those typically used by Western practitioners.  In Western medicine, practitioners will use science, run diagnostic tests, and focus on the specific part of the body that seems to be the root cause of particular condition or illness. Traditional Chinese medicine , on the other hand, uses a four step process that takes the entire body as well as the patient’s overall wellbeing into consideration.

The four steps are as follows:

Observation (Sight)

Observation is the first step. Chinese medicine experts will look at a patient’s complexion and evaluates whether he is pale, flushed, or has a rash.  They will also note other obvious skin changes. They observe the tongue and look at its color. The condition of the nails will also be looked at closely. The observation process also includes looking at the patient’s gait and demeanor.

Listening and Smelling (Sound and Smell)

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners will listen closely to the sound of the patient’s voice.  They carefully observe whether it is hoarse, coarse, scratchy, soft, harsh, or unusual in other ways. They will listen to the sound of the patient’s breathing.  They make careful note of any smells, such as excessive body odor, that may help determine a diagnosis.


Traditional Chinese medical specialists will ask the patient questions about any past or present complaints. They will also typically ask about digestion, bowel movements, family history, living habits, and physical environment.  Inquiries regarding the patient’s home life are also a part of the diagnostic process.


In Traditional Chinese medicine , this fourth step in diagnosing a problem involves checking the patient’s temperature, moisture level, and pulse. The pulse is checked at various points along the meridian system.  Each pulse is compared to the others. This gives insight to the origins of any problem.

Once a diagnosis is determined, Traditional Chinese medical practitioners will then develop an individualized treatment plan for the patient.

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