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The differences between Chinese Medicine and Western medicine

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Chinese medicine tends to do the following things:

Treat the person rather than the symptoms

We could say that Chinese medicine treats people while Western medicine treats diseases. A Chinese practitioner will look at the whole person and the underlying reason for her or him becoming ill. In comparison, Western medicine will pay more attention to treating the person’s symptoms.

For example, when considering symptom such as a headache, a Chinese medicine practitioner looks fo the underlying cause and will ask patients about the nature of their symptoms as well as observing their tongue and feeling 12 pulses on the wrists. The cause may be a number of different possibilities, including the functioning on the Liver, Kidney or Spleen energy. treatment will aim to help the person to achieve a better balance in their energy so the cause of the headaches is eliminated.

Western medicine practitioners are more likely to focus on clearing the symptoms of the headache directly. To this end, they may also ask about the nature of the headache, but their treatment is different. They will usually prescribe a painkiller or another medicine to stop the symptoms of pain without looking at why the problem has arisen in the first place.

Generalise rather than specialise

Because Chinese medicine is holistic, practitioners tend to be generalists rather than specialists. Western medicine, on the other hand, tends to value specialism over generalism

If a patient has a number of different symptoms a Chinese medicine practitioner will look for patterns to see how the signs and symptoms are connected. In comparison, if a patient with a number of symptoms visits a Western medicine doctor they could be given tablets for each condition or be sent to different clinics.

For instance, a patient who feels depressed and has irregular periods and digestive problems, such as alternating constipation and diarrhoea, may be diagnosed by a Chinese medicine practitioner as having a pattern of “Liver Qi stagnation’. The symptoms would all be seen as stemming from the same root. All symptoms would, therefore, be dealt with nu the same treatment.

The same patient might be given medicines of need to attend a number of different Western medicine clinics for their gynaecological symptoms, their irritable bowel syndrome and their mental health problems. Each symptom would be dealt with by different treatments would not be seen to be connected.

Prescribe Individualised rather than blanket treatments.

A Chinese medicine practitioner who has two patients with the same condition will not necessarily treat them in the same way. In comparison, a Western medicine practitioner is likely to give the same treatment for similar conditions.

Lets take a patient with asthma, for example. Chinese medicine will look at the nature of each individual’s asthma. Some patients’ asthma might be caused by lung weakness, whilst others might be caused by phlegm blocking the lungs.

Still, others may be caused by kidney weakness or obstructed liver energy. Depending on the diagnosis, each patient will have a unique diagnosis and will be treated in a different way. I general, Western medicine practitioners will treat all asthma sufferers in a similar way and a doctor will usually prescribe inhalers.

See body and mind as connected rather separate.

Chinese medicine describes all problems as coming from an underlying imbalance in a patient’s energy, if the energy is imbalance, a person will feel out of sorts on many levels. This can cause physical, mental and emotional signs and symptoms. In order to remedy this, the energy is released so that the patient feels better in body, mind and spirit. Western medicine, on the other hand, will tend to diagnose and treat the body and mind separately.

For example, if a patient comes to a Chinese medicine practitioner with extreme fear and anxiety and an achy back, the Chinese medicine practitioner might treat this person’s kidney energy and help both problems simultaneously. A western medicine doctor, on the other hand, might treat them separately and give the patient antidepressants and painkillers.

Use observation rather than tests

Chinese medicine and Western medicine practitioners diagnose patients differently. A Chinese medicine practitioner will use observation and palpation as well as questioning in order to reach a diagnosis. A Western medicine practitioner, on the other hand, will tend to ask questions and then might send a patient for a test to confirm a diagnosis.

For example, in the case of a patient with a joint problem, a Chinese medicine practitioner will probably palpate the patient’s joint, notice the range of movement, feel for the temperature and then diagnose which acupuncture’ channel’ is most affected and whether the condition is ‘full’ or ‘deficient’, or ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. A western medicine practitioner might carry out some palpation but may rely more heavily on a scan to see more clearly what is going on.

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