Eastern Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disease

Recently, I read a funny article about differences in Eastern vs. Western medical diagnosis. It showed that patients who had all been given the same diagnosis of gastric ulcers by Western doctors were given one of 5 separate diagnoses under Eastern medical care. Here are those 5 different diagnoses from the Eastern medicine perspective…


  1. Damp Heat in Spleen and Stomach: Pain worsens with application of pressure to the stomach area and improves with application of ice. Typical characteristics are: a strong-looking constitution, reddish complexion, constipation, dark yellow urine, a red tongue with a yellowish, greasy coating, and a wiry pulse (actually pulses, according to Eastern practice). For this group, these symptoms are considered to be gastrointestinal disturbances due to damp heat in the body.


  1. Stomach Yin Deficiency: These patients tend to be emaciated, with gray faces and red cheeks. They complain of thirst and sweaty palms. Their tongues are dry and red with no coating, and their pulses are thready and quite rapid. Symptoms also include constipation, insomnia, night sweats, nervousness and anxiety. These patients are considered to have deficient heat due to lack of body fluid.


  1. Deficient Coldness in Stomach: Pain is not severe but is persistent. It improves with the direct application of pressure or warmth to the affected area, and patients also feel better after eating. Typical symptoms include chills, pallor, cold sweats (mostly during daytime); wanting more sleep, frequent urination (both day and night), a pale, wet tongue, and weak pulses. These symptoms suggest a deficiency of Yang qi which then leads to gastrointestinal problems.


  1. Cold Damp in Spleen and Stomach: Pain is very spasmodic. It improves on drinking warm water and worsens with the application of pressure on the painful area. Typical symptoms include slow and heavy body movements, a bright white complexion, loose stools, a thick, white, watery coating on the tongue, and slippery, wiry pulses. These symptoms tell of cold damp in the spleen and stomach leading to a lowering of water metabolism and then damp stagnation.


  1. Disharmony between Liver and Spleen: Symptoms include sour belching accompanied by headache. Pain improves with massage but does not improve with the application of ice or heat. Patients tend to be erratic and get stressed easily, worsening when depressed or angry. Their tongues look normal, but their pulses are very wiry. In terms of the underlying problem, the gastrointestinal disturbances are secondary to the loss of the liver’s function to keep qi flowing freely due to the failure to control emotions.


Faced with the same patient and the same symptoms, Eastern and Western medicine may make different diagnoses. This stems from some basic dissimilarity between the two traditions, involving not only the names of diseases but also how they are classified, how physiology and pathology are understood, and more. Varying perspectives on disease lead to varying diagnoses and different methods of healing, and having access to such diverse approaches can be beneficial to patients.

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