Asking: A TCM practitioner wants to know about every symptom you feel. Sometimes this is a difficult task for patients who are used to seeing allopathic practitioners that do not require or ask for the same information. There is no such thing as an insignificant symptom or problem in TCM. Your TCM practitioner may ask you whether you have a tendency to feel hot or cold, whether you tend to have a certain taste in your mouth, about the quality of your sleep and digestion, whether you have a tendency toward a certain emotional state (e.g. sadness, depression, anxiety), and whether you have any pain or swelling. Remember that TCM and allopathic medicine have different ideas about what is normal. In allopathic medicine, it is considered within normal limits for a woman to have strong menstrual cramps for two days during her period. In TCM, this is a significant symptom that offers the practitioner important information. Therefore, it is important to tell your TCM practitioner all the symptoms and complaints you have. Every single sign you think is abnormal offers your practitioner valuable information.
Looking: A TCM practitioner can tell many things about a person simply by looking. A TCM practitioner observes:
Mental Energy (Shen): By noting complexion, eyes, state of mind, responses and speech
Body: Including general body shape (that which we’re born with), long-term constitutional changes (weight and shape, e.g. heavy or thin), and short term changes (e.g. skin tone changes)
Face, Eyes, Nose, Ears, Mouth, Lips, Skin, Hair, Teeth and Gums: The surface of the body offers information about inner health. For instance, a pale and lusterless puffy face, red eyes, dark purple lips, or dry hair all provide information. While ethnic and racial diversity means that people will have different characteristics and features, the TCM practitioner looks for what transcends the range of normal. It is best to avoid wearing makeup when visiting a TCM practitioner.
Tongue: An extremely important aspect of TCM diagnosis, tongue observation offers the TCM practitioner vital information. The TCM practitioner observes the color, shape, and coating of the tongue in order to learn about the patient’s overall condition as well as information about digestion, circulation, general energy and more. It is best to avoid consuming anything other that water one half-hour before your visit with a TCM practitioner. Also, please do not scrape or brush your tongue before visiting.
Hearing and Smelling: The quality of the patient’s voice, the sound of a cough and breathing can offer the TCM practitioner clues. Likewise, body smells, such as breath smells, also provide information. It is best to refrain from using perfumes or colognes when visiting a TCM practitioner.
Pulse: Perhaps the most difficult method of diagnosis in TCM, pulse diagnosis provides the practitioner with key information. Whereas, in allopathic medicine the pulse may be taken to identify its rate and regularity, in TCM, there are 28 different qualities that may describe a pulse. Also the pulse is taken at three different positions in both wrists and at three different levels (superficial, middle, and deep). The right side offers different information from the left and the six different positions and three different levels correspond to various areas of the body. Pulse diagnosis is an extremely intricate method of diagnosis.
After the herbalist has a thorough picture of your health, he or she will recommend an individualized herbal program for you to follow. Traditionally, herbs have been administered in a number of different forms. They have been boiled in water and taken as tea, made into pills, tinctures, powders, and as topical plasters. Today, herbal companies have developed other forms (capsules, tablets, granular teas) that are more convenient and palatable. Along with an herbal program the TCM practitioner may recommend acupuncture.
Fewer Side Effects: Chinese herbal treatments are taken in a natural and whole food form. For example, teas are decocted from whole roots, stems, and leaves, and capsules are filled with crushed whole food material. Chemical medicines are made by locating active chemical compounds and creating medicines from these compounds. When reduced to its chemical fundamentals, pharmaceuticals can have side effects. When used appropriately, most Chinese herbal treatments will cause no side effects, as long as they are used in their whole food form. Research in China has shown that when reduced to their active chemical compounds, Chinese herbal treatments will cause side effects. This is one reason why TCM practitioners continue to use whole food forms of treatments. Because TCM treatments have not been reduced to their active compounds, they must be consumed in larger quantities and more frequently than most chemical pharmaceuticals.