Chinese Medical Diagnosis

Chinese Medical Diagnosis – What Patients Need To Know

  • In addition to your physician’s Western medical Diagnosis, Chinese medicine has its own system of personalized pattern discrimination. A Chinese medical pattern is a professionally recognized grouping of signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms are collected by the practitioner by what in Chinese Medicine is called the “Four Examinations”. These Four Examinations are Looking, Listening-smelling, palpation, and questioning.
  • Because Chinese medicine did not have the luxury (or hindrance) of sophisticated diagnostic technology, a very detailed system of observation and correspondences within the body was developed. Seemingly insignificant signs and symptoms that make little sense to the average modern Western practitioner can have profound meaning in Chinese medicine.
    • For example, slight differences in the quality of sleep, elimination, digestion, emotional activity, temperature and sweat in different regions of the body, all have significance in diagnosing underlying pathologies.
  • Before reliance on modern imaging techniques and laboratory tests, Chinese doctors also developed ways of assessing the health of the whole body through observing the tongue and palpating the pulse and abdomen. These seemingly basic procedures can elicit very detailed information in relation to the patient and his/her imbalances in the disease process.


  • Looking means looking at the patient with normal eyesight. Your practitioner looks at the brightness and clarity of your eyes, the color and luster of your complexion, your facial expression, and your posture and movement.
  • He or she will also visually inspect any problem areas you report. For instance, if you have a skin rash, your practitioner will want to see its shape, color, location, and size. Similarly, if you complain of your elbow hurting, your practitioner will also visually inspect your elbow and its surrounding tissue to look for swelling, changes in color, and/or changes in shape.
  • Looking also means Looking at the Tongue. It is believed that changes in the internal organs manifest in changes in the shape, color, and fur or coating of the tongue. Each area of the tongue corresponds to one of the viscera or bowels of Chinese Medicine. Therefore, changes in shape, color, or fur/coating, in these areas is believed to reflect changes in these organs. In modern Chinese medicine, tongue examination is extremely important, and your practitioner will typically spend some time checking and rechecking your tongue.


  • In ancient Chinese, there is a single verb which covers both listening and smelling.
  • Your practitioner will listen to the sound of your voice and the clarity of your communication.
  • He or she will also listen to the sound of your breathing and the sound of any coughing or wheezing.
  • In terms of smelling, these days this is mostly covered under questioning, where your practitioner may ask you about bad breath, unusual body odor, or the smell of your feces, urine, and/or vaginal discharges.


  • Palpation means feeling with one’s hands. There are two divisions to the palpation examination in Chinese medicine.
  • The first of these is general palpation of any areas of pain or discomfort. For instance, if you have sprained your wrist, your practitioner will want to feel the wrist. Likewise, if you say you have abdominal pain, your practitioner will want to feel your abdomen.
  • Some practitioners may palpate every patient’s abdomen on a routine basis due to the fact that there is a whole system of Chinese Medical Diagnosis based on abdominal palpation. However, not all practitioners use this system.
  • The other main type of palpation in Chinese medicine is palpation of the pulse.
    • This primarily means feeling the radial arteries at the wrists of both hands.
    • Chinese doctors have believed for at least 3,000 years that one can diagnose all the main viscera and bowels through palpation of these arteries.
    • Although there are several different styles of pulse palpation currently in use, all are based on the division of this section of these arteries into three areas which correspond to three areas of the human body and their organs.
    • By exerting different degrees of pressure at these three areas on the wrist, we believe one can detect pathological changes in all the main viscera and bowels of Chinese medicine.
    • In order to describe and record the feelings under their fingertips, Chinese doctors use 28 different pulse images or feelings. One or more of these pulse images may combine together, thus forming a large number of possible variables.
    • Pulse examination is the seemingly most arcane of the four Chinese medical examinations. However, it is based on definite standards and it has proven its worth in over 4,000 years of recorded clinical history.
    • Some practitioners may also palpate other pulses on the body, such as the carotid pulse located at the front of the throat or the pedal pulse located at the top of the instep of the foot. This may be done routinely or only in certain situations.


  • Questioning is, in many ways, the most important of the four examinations. Your practitioner may question you in either or both of two ways:
    1. By a written “in-take” form and
    2. By oral questioning
  • You will typically find that Chinese medical practitioners ask many more questions than do most Western MDs. This is because Chinese medical patterns describe the whole person, not just there disease or major complaint.
  • We want to know about your appetite, diet, elimination, energy, sleep, emotions/mood, perspiration, sex drive, body temperature, menstrual cycle, reproductive history, medical history, and as many details as possible about your complaints.
  • By the time your chinese medical practitioner is through asking you questions, he or she should have a pretty complete picture of you as an individual person. Of course, all answers to these questions are protected by professional confidentiality.


  • Although there are four examinations, for the purposes of professional pattern discrimination, the information gathered by these four examinations is summarized under three main headings:
    1. General Signs and Symptoms
    2. Tongue diagnosis, and
    3. Pulse diagnosis.
  • It is the confluence of these three groups of information that establish a Chinese medical pattern & diagnosis.
  • When treatment is given based on a combination of both your Western disease diagnosis and a Chinese medical pattern discrimination, you can be sure you are receiving the most comprehensive, holistic care available in the world today.

* Note: Some of the above information is resourced from Blue Poppy Press