The Difference Between Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, from a Series on Headaches, Part 1

How to Get the Best Benefits from all Knowledge of Medicine.

For Example, Diagnosing Chronic Headaches, Including Migraines or Cluster Headaches, with Chinese Medicine

The Difference Between Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine.


The different methods used by Western and Chinese Medicine are due to an entirely different approach to diagnosing a person. Western Medicine treats the disease, whereas Chinese Medicine treats the person. Western Medicine is trying to diagnose a “disease”, or recognize a pattern of symptoms which are common to all people with a certain “disease”. This can be helpful, especially when the condition is severe or life-threatening. For instance, if you have a cerebro-vascular accident (CVA) or stroke, or brain tumor, the western medicine diagnosis and treatment can be very important in terms of saving your life or preventing severe, long term damage or suffering in the body. This is a great example of the power and benefit of Western Medicine: its’ ability to diagnose and treat severe conditions, like trauma or advanced stages of disease. This is why we should use Western Medicine as a diagnostic tool first, to rule out severe conditions. Furthermore, even in less severe situations, it allows us to use science and technology to our benefit. However the abuse of Western Medicine is becoming more and more evident in the over prescribing of drugs, spiraling health care costs, and unnecessary surgeries. The negative side effects of drugs and surgeries, and the recurrence of conditions after treatment also show its limitations.

Chinese Medicine differs because it is actually diagnosing the individual person. In Chinese Medicine, we consider diseases and symptoms as the same. It is looking for the true root cause of any symptoms or diseases the person may have. It is trying to identify a pattern of “disease-symptoms” unique to that individual. It is this pattern that is the true root cause of any abnormal conditions according to Chinese Medicine. By treating the “pattern” of the individual, you will resolve all the symptoms of a pattern including the main symptoms or the ‘disease’. Chinese Medicine considers the “disease”, and even the western “cause” of a disease as only a symptom of a deeper underlying “pattern” which is the true root cause of the headache.

Western Medicine treats the disease, but often does not understand the root. It is often looking for a physical cause in the body, an abnormality of the functioning of the physical anatomy, or even abnormalities at the molecular level which may cause a ‘disease’. This is, in my opinion, a major flaw or drawback of Western Medicine. It does not recognize that there can be ‘energetic’ imbalances which come before physical changes. You can treat a pattern before it evolves into physical harm. This is why Chinese Medicine can succeed so well in prevention of disease. In most cases beyond severe conditions, where there is obvious physical change in the body, Western Medicine does not understand the root cause of illness or disharmony. Often we hear this from our western doctors: “the headache is from stress”, or “we don’t know the exact cause”, or “it is caused from pressure on the nerve”. Well, what is causing that, you may ask? If a headache is from a broken blood vessel in the head from an injury, then one could say that Western Medicine is seeing the root or cause of the headache and treating it appropriately. With this I would agree. In an emergency situation, Western Medicine shines. In the case where the headache is from something other than a severe, life threatening condition, a trauma, or an advanced disease, often times Western Medicine begins to fail at treatment since it does not understand these “patterns” of Chinese Medicine. One could argue that this is a philosophical debate, but the bottom line is this: Which form of medicine benefits you the most?

I believe both systems have advantages and disadvantages, and you must learn WHEN to apply each system, or how to skillfully combine them. This is the NEW MEDICINE which is taking over the world! What is being practiced in most of China today is a combination of modern Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It includes modern diagnostic tools like ultrasound and MRI’s, surgical techniques, and pharmaceutical drugs from Western Medicine with the herbal medicine, acupuncture, and ancient diagnostic techniques from Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Chinese have the best of both worlds! There is much less abuse and over prescription of drugs and over use of expensive diagnostic techniques or unnecessary surgeries. This is mainly due to economic and social values. In America, for instance, most people have insurance which will pay for expensive diagnostics and drugs. What follows is a huge abuse of the medical system. In my opinion, Western medicine is best at triage, or emergency medicine. First of all, it can diagnose things like deep seated brain tumor with an MRI, for instance, in the early stages which Chinese medicine usually cannot. Secondly, it can do surgery to remove the tumor, for example, or repair the body from trauma or injury. Surgery was also done by the Chinese a long time ago, and there were famous surgeons from 500 years ago and more, but the modern procedures together with the equipment and technology is incomparable. Thirdly, it can apply drugs with very specific life saving effects on the body. One could argue that the Chinese were also doing this a long time ago in some form or another. But the advent of modern pharmaceuticals has made huge advances and there are very specific drugs which can work better than herbs like antibiotics and antivirals, and if used appropriately, it little side effects. In cases where conditions persist, the side effects of drugs are often worse than the condition itself.

An example would be a headache caused from high blood pressure, or another diagnosis could be “headache of a vascular nature”. In Western Medicine, the improper blood flow, or high pressure of the blood, would be considered the cause of the headache. In Chinese Medicine we would see this blood imbalance as just another symptom of a deeper underlying “pattern” called, for example, “Liver Yang Rising From Liver Yin Deficiency”. In Chinese Medicine, this “pattern” would be the root cause of the headache, and there for sure would be other symptoms like outbursts of anger, insomnia (inability to sleep), and constipation, for instance. If you treat this pattern correctly with Chinese Medicine, not only do you resolve the headache or “disease”, but the whole set of symptoms associated with the “pattern”. If you treat the headache with Western Medicine like painkillers or muscle relaxants, it may eliminate the headache quickly, but it will often make the other symptoms worse, especially over a longer period of time. And most likely, the headache will be back! If one stops the drugs abruptly, the headache can come on even stronger. If one continues to only mask the symptoms with drugs, for sure other symptoms of a more severe nature will arise. These are the side effects of drugs. The side effects of Chinese Medicine are a gradual lessening of all the symptoms in a pattern, including the headache. Drugs tend to loose their effectiveness over time, but may work really well at relieving symptoms. Which medicine do you think is more helpful in each case? Which one do you think actually works in the long term? Which one works better in a severe short term situation? What are the consequences? If you only treat the headache with drugs for years and years, you are for sure on a downward spiral of your health, and you more than likely still have the headaches and other worsening symptoms. The purpose of this work is to explain the best uses of both systems, and give in detail other options of which you may not be aware.


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