Chinese medicine is a system of health care developed thousands of years ago. Western medicine, while quite ubiquitous in the United States, is a much more recent phenomenon. "The development of medicine in Western nations follows the way of hypothetical deduction and the Eastern approach uses the inductive method," writes Dr. Julia J. Tsuei for the National Center for Biotechnology Information. "The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state." Whether you are looking for alternative or complimentary treatments to those offered by mainstream medical providers or are considering a career in in holistic health, it helps to understand some of the differences in Chinese medicine vs Western medicine. To learn more about some attributes of each system, read on.
Divergent approaches to patient exams
While a doctor of Western medicine might be most interested in vital signs like weight, height, body temperature, blood pressure and so on, as well as signs of disease, the Chinese medicine doctor will examine the whole person. A practitioner might be just as interested in a person's physical issues as in other aspects of their lives, including their relationships with family, life stresses or spiritual state.
A doctor of Western medicine might treat two patients suffering the same ailment in the same way, while Chinese medicine practitioners would understand that each patient is an individual. "What makes Eastern medicine so different than Western is that instead of prescribing a 'one size fits all' for all patients with certain symptoms, Eastern medicine looks at the needs of each individual and unique body and acts accordingly," according to Gaia. "In essence, it’s a short-term versus long-term action plan."
Differences in diagnostic practices
Practitioners of Chinese medicine understand the world and the human body in terms of five essential elements:
These substances are aspects of the qi, or chi — or the life force energy — that flows within the body. Each person is made up of a unique balance of these elements, which are each associated with different seasons, colors and organs in the body. When the elements become unbalanced of the flow of qi is impeded, health problems occur. The therapies used by practitioners of Chinese Medicine aim to restore flow and balance. The treatments also aim to help facilitate the body's own ability to heal itself.
Some of the methods Chinese medicine uses to correct imbalances and create harmony:
- Diet therapy
- Herbal remedies
- Chinese exercise
Western medicine often relies on pharmaceutical therapies to address health issues, while Chinese medicine relies on more natural substances.
Some patients opt for a combination of Chinese and Western medicine, and it's a good idea to share with your practitioner or provider all the treatments and therapies you use.