Lifestyle factors can help a practitioner make a diagnosis in Chinese medicine. These factors, such as the amount of sleep you get each night, play a role in your overall health. The practitioner should also evaluate your past medical history to get a clearer picture of your health.
Thirst, Appetite, and Taste
No desire for fluids at all is a sign of excess cold, while a desire for small amounts of hot liquids can indicate deficiency cold from yang depletion. A craving for large amounts of water is a sign of excess heat. If a person has a dry mouth and wants small amounts of water, it is a sign of deficiency heat due to depleted yin.
If dampness is present, a person may want to drink but is unable to do so and may even vomit small amounts of water. A person with an excessively strong appetite may have stomach heat; he or she might even eat a lot but remain thin.
A person who has an appetite but no desire to eat could have stomach yin deficiency. In this case, the deficiency heat causes a false appetite, but the deficiency in stomach yin itself prevents true hunger. On the other hand, a complete lack of appetite indicates spleen qi deficiency; when the person does eat, he or she often feels bloated or tired afterward. When the appetite is low and the person has an aversion to oily foods, the cause could be damp heat in the liver and gallbladder.
Another set of diagnostic indicators unique to Chinese medicine is the presence of various tastes in the mouth. For example, a bitter taste in the mouth indicates heat, usually in the heart, liver, or gallbladder. A sweet taste can occur with damp heat in the spleen, and a salty taste can arise from a deficiency in the kidneys. A sour taste is associated with heat in the liver or food stagnation in the stomach, while a complete lack of taste can occur with spleen qi deficiency.
A restful night's sleep depends on a healthy balance of yin and yang. The yin and blood are the aspects of the heart that provide a solid foundation for the mind and spirit. If yin and blood are deficient, yang will be out of control. Yang is fire and activity and is kept within normal ranges by cool and calm yin. When yin is deficient, it can't control yang, and too much heat and activity results, producing such symptoms as restlessness and insomnia.
On the other hand, if qi or yang is insufficient, the person experiences an overabundance of yin, leading to fatigue and excessive sleepiness. A person who has difficulty falling asleep but then sleeps soundly may have a deficiency of heart blood. Difficulty staying asleep can be a sign of deficient heart yin: The deficiency heat disturbs sleep. Insomnia that is accompanied by a bitter taste in the mouth and angry dreams is associated with liver fire, while sleeplessness due to irritability and sexual dreams can be a result of heat due to kidney yin deficiency.
A person who wakes up easily, is forgetful, and experiences heart palpitations can have a pattern of insufficient heart blood and spleen qi. In children, crying at night can often be due to heat in the heart or liver. A practitioner also attempts to determine whether a person gets too much sleep, since this could be due to qi or yang deficiency. If the person claims his whole body feels heavy, especially when the weather is rainy, the excessive sleep is caused by dampness.
Lifestyle and Medical History
Many imbalances are due to the patient's lifestyle. It is very difficult to treat a case of cold dampness in the spleen successfully in a person who eats a quart of ice cream every day -- no matter how much ginseng and ginger the person consumes. Ice cream is classified as a cold, damp food. On the other hand, the same person can assist the healing process by consuming hot soups containing ginger root and pepper.
Foods are also strong medicines with their own hot or cold energies, and selecting the proper foods for a given body type or disease pattern is an important part of the healing process. Similarly, a person who walks around barefoot in the winter might complain about frequent colds. This person would be better off dressing in warm clothing, rather than trying to stimulate the immune system.
A complete medical history is just as important in traditional Chinese medicine as it is in Western medicine. Important clues might be uncovered that could shed light on the cause of current problems. It's important to note the use of any prescription medication, since a patient's symptoms could be due to side effects of these medications.
Gynecologic Signs and Symptoms
A female patient is always asked about her menstrual cycle, since it can provide abundant information about the condition of the internal organs and vital substances. A cycle that is longer than normal might be a sign of blood deficiency or cold stagnation, while a short cycle can occur with heat.
A scanty menstrual flow with light-colored blood is associated with deficiency of qi and blood, while a strong flow with dark color can be a sign of excess heat. Cramping before the menstrual flow is a symptom of excess, while cramping after the flow begins is a sign of deficiency. Blood clots with sharp pains occur with blood stagnation. If there is no cycle at all, the primary causes are qi and blood deficiency or stagnation.
On the next page, learn about how the sense of touch can help a practitioner determine a person's health. From palpitation to pulse, sense of touch indicates whether a person is ill or not.
For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:
- How Traditional Chinese Medicine Works
- How to Treat Common Ailments with Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Coughs, Colds, Flu, and Allergies
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Digestive System
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Pain Relief
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Overall Health