Diagnostic Methods

General Observation

Most of us form opinions about people upon speaking to them for the first time. We notice the appearance of their hair, their skin, their demeanor, the sound of their voice, etc...These are all of the things that an Oriental Medical Doctor will observe as well, only in a more systematic way.

Observation of Color

Colors are important to note where ever unusual ones appear. For example, a yellow face or sclera (the whites of the eyes) signifies jaundice. In Oriental Medicine we actually separate this yellow color further. Is it pale yellow (Damp-Cold) or dark yellow (Damp-Heat)? Pale yellow signifies Yin jaundice, while dark yellow indicates Yang jaundice. The treatments would, therefore, be very different in nature. Colors may often be present in combinations and may indicate different syndromes in different areas of the body.

Observation of the Tongue Body

The tongue is one of the major diagnostic tools in the human body. It is a window into our internal environment. The tongue is separated into areas which correlate to organ structures. Pathology in any of the human organs will be indicated by various signs on the tongue in that organs corresponding area. Your acupuncturist will look at your tongue each visit to measure your progress and monitor your state of health. He or she will be looking for such things as the tongue.

For example, a normal tongue should be pale red with a thin white coat. If the tongue should become red, this would indicate a heat syndrome, if it is pale it may indicate Qi or Blood deficiency. If the tongue is purple, it signifies stagnation. The body itself is significant. Is the tongue plump, thin, swollen? Is it short, long, pointy, cracked, curled? These conditions all lead your acupuncturist toward different diagnostic conclusions.

Observation of the Tongue Coating

The tongue coating, like the tongue body has has a system of internal organ correlation related to its location on the tongue. It is also important to note the many qualities of the coating. For example, a tongue coating may be greasy in appearance. This would indicate dampness. In addition, this greasy appearance may have a color involved with it. This color may be yellow, white, or grey. Each of these colors in combination with the greasiness indicate different diagnoses. A tongue may have a geographic coat. This is a term which is used to describe a person with Yin deficiency. A tongue with a geographic coating would have places which look as if they have literally been peeled off.


The body is palpated at certain points which assist in the determination of a diagnosis. For example, for each organ there are points which correspond to it from various aspects. The palpation of these points indicate different conditions and pathologies. Your first visit should include the palpation of your body to ascertain which areas are tender. Body temperature, moisture, skin condition, and organ enlargement are all important aspects of the palpation process.


In oriental medicine the doctor checks the pulse in three different positions at three different levels. He or she will measuring not only the speed but also strength, depth, and quality of each pulse. Each of these locations correspond to your body's organs. Syndromes may be concluded upon by the pulse qualities as well:

Floating pulse
Empty pulse
Flooding pulse
Sinking pulse
Full pulse
Wiry pulse
Slow pulse
Slippery pulse
Tight pulse
Rapid pulse
Choppy-uneven pulse
Weak pulse
Abrupt pulse
Thin pulse
Knotted pulse


Some of the pulses listed above will appear obvious. For example, a rapid pulse is fast. The beats are usually more than 90 per minute and signify a condition of heat in the body. A slow pulse is usually 60 beat per minute or less and often indicates cold conditions. However, many of the other terms are very foreign in nature and indicate very specific pathologies. A knotted pulse is a great example. A knotted pulse must be slow and irregularly irregular. It is 60 beats per minute or less and misses beats at irregular intervals. This specific pulse indicates excessive Yin conditions, accumulation of Qi, retention of cold phlegm, and stagnant blood. Cold phlegm and stagnant blood block the vessels, while excessive Yin means the failure of Yin to arrive.


Listening & Smelling


There are many sound the human body makes to which a Doctor Of Oriental Medicine is attuned. The sound of the voice, the sound of breaths being taken, the pitch or tone of a cough, and/or the strength or relative weakness of any of these.


Like sounds, smells are of equal importance. Smell may emanate from a patient's breath, from their body, from their bodily excretions and secretions, such as bowel movements, gas, urination, sweat, vomit, etc. As funny as this seems, these smells can be very conclusive diagnostic tools within the scope of Oriental Medicine.


The initial consultation required in Oriental Medicine is quite lengthy and detailed (a thorough one should be about two hours). These types of questions and information may appear to some as insignificant to their reason for seeking treatment. However, this method is organized and laid out in such a way that the accumulation of data in the end brings conclusive information which is crucial to the diagnostic process. Questions will include inquiries into your digestive process, sleep patterns, energy level, emotional influences, etc.. You will asked very specific questions regarding each physiological and emotional function which will assist in further differentiating information regarding your body.