Diagnosis: East and West


Diagnosis by Process of Elimination vs. Diagnosis by Pattern Recognition

In Western medicine, doctors rely heavily on imaging and quantitative measures like testing to make a diagnosis. This is often done via the process of elimination, an inexact way of defining what a condition is by determining what it is not. Unfortunately, just because you know what something isn’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have correctly identified what it is. In Eastern medicine, diagnosis is made by pattern recognition. This is done by looking at all the symptoms in every organ system at once, seeking to identify their common underlying threads. Eastern medicine has an extensive system for diagnosing disease, even when it is in its early, vague stages, even when medical testing has been inconclusive. Every symptom, no matter how small, has a meaning. My diagnosis text is over 1,000 pages long!

Facial Diagnosis

Diagnosis with Unknown Cause vs. Diagnosis Defines Cause

In Western medicine, a person can have a diagnosis for which neither the cause nor the treatment of the disease is known. This is most commonly seen in syndromes, patterns of illness in which it is recognized that certain symptoms cluster together but not why. These conditions may be identified and named, but there is no deeper understanding of their pathological mechanism, so symptom management is usually the only treatment. However, in Eastern medicine, the diagnosis both defines the cause of the disease and dictates its treatment. For example, if someone is diagnosed with a chi deficiency, the cause is a lack of chi and the treatment is to tonify chi.

It's All in Your Head

Because of its heavy reliance on imaging and testing, there are limits to diagnosis in Western medicine. Unfortunately, if it is not possible to see or measure the cause of a patient’s symptoms, it is sometimes assumed that it is imaginary. I would suggest some alternatives: perhaps the needed test or imaging device doesn’t exist yet, or the disease is still in its earliest stages so there are no visible or quantifiable symptoms yet. In Eastern medicine, there is no such thing as a condition being all inside your head. Whatever you experience subjectively or objectively is real, whether it can be seen and measured or not. Eastern medicine also has an incredibly extensive system for diagnosing the meaning of pretty much every symptom, even when a disease is in its earliest stages.

High-tech Diagnosis vs. Low-tech

In general, Western medicine relies heavily on laboratory testing and scanning technologies to make a diagnosis. Eastern medicine, on the other hand, relies on the practitioner to gather information directly from the patient to determine their pattern of disease. Operating under the theory that everything is connected, Eastern medicine has developed multiple systematic ways in which to examine and evaluate a patient, using outward signs and symptoms as a way to understand what is going on with the internal organs. The primary methods include case history interview, observation, palpation, tongue diagnosis, and pulse diagnosis. Observation is a particularly broad category that encompasses facial diagnosis, the observation of body language and posture, diagnosis by sound and smell, and much more.

Health Screenings

Along with emergency medicine and vaccination, health screenings are one of the most valuable tools of western medicine. Between yearly physicals and the many different types of cancer screenings, western medicine has saved many, many lives. Unfortunately, though Eastern medicine can often diagnose disease even when testing is inconclusive, it cannot detect disease when there are no symptoms at all. Eastern medicine is also limited by the patient's understanding of what constitutes health and normal bodily functions. Sometimes a patient's health education is insufficient or they are so out of touch with their bodies that they are not even aware that they are having symptoms of disease. Furthermore, most people don't think of Eastern medicine as a way to preemptively screen and evaluate health, though it can be used this way.
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