Medical Features

How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Treat Survivors?

Post on 13/10/16

Many survivors and caregivers turn to alternative medicine, with TCM being popular. Jeraldine Seah, a licensed Chinese Medicine Physician, explains key principles in the TCM approach to stroke care.



Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in China, with a history of more than 2,500 years. TCM differs from Western Medicine, namely in its fundamental theories, unique diagnostic and treatment principles. It is based on the theories of Yin Yang, the Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), “Zang” and “Fu” organs, as well as Meridians (channels and collaterals which integrate the tissues and organs in the human body). These theories are applied to the understanding of physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its relationship with the natural environment.

According to TCM theory, a typical diagnosis of any condition begins with identification of the patient’s constitutional pattern. It includes the “Four Pillars of Evaluation”: inspection, auscultation, inquiring and palpation (pulse examination). Inspection includes observation of a patient’s face and tongue. Auscultation includes listening to the sound and pitch of voice and smelling of abnormal bodily odors. Inquiring refers to the process of obtaining information on medical history. Palpation includes examining the relative strength and frequency of a patient’s pulse which is unique of TCM.

The understanding and treatment of diseases in TCM is based primarily on the diagnosis and differentiation of syndromes. A disease may present with different manifestations at different phases during the course of the disease. Different treatments may be used at these different stages ensuring individualized treatment for each patient. Various TCM treatments include herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, tuina and dietary therapy.

How TCM Approaches Stroke Care

Stroke remains one of the leading causes of adult disabilities worldwide. In China, TCM combined with conventional western medicine is commonly used as a form of treatment for stroke and its therapeutic efficacy has been widely documented in Chinese Literature. With more research being carried out, TCM continues to be evolved and is becoming increasingly prevalent all over the world.

Stroke is characterized with a sudden onset and just like the constant changing, moving nature of wind (feng), it is a rapidly deteriorating condition if not recognized and medically attended to immediately. Hence, stroke is referred to as “Zhong Feng” in Chinese.

In TCM, one of the underlying factors predisposing a person to stroke involves “internal wind” and may also be the consequence of “external pathogenic wind”. The interactions of internal wind, external pathogenic wind together with other pathogenic factors such as fire, phlegm, and stagnation may result in the imbalance of yin and yang, impedes the circulation of qi and blood, leading to the sudden onset of stroke. Depending on the severity of stroke, it may be classified into 2 main types (i) one that affects meridians and channels (without loss of consciousness), and (ii) one that involves the viscera (with loss of consciousness).

TCM treatment for stroke is generally a combination of herbal medication, acupuncture and physical therapy. Treatment will be administered according to the type of stroke and based on syndrome differentiation. The fundamental treatment principle is to eliminate the underlying pathogenic factors and restoring the patient’s body resistance. Based on TCM treatment principles, treatment plans are constantly varied as patients present with different symptoms at different stages.

Optimal results may be obtained if patients seek treatment early, especially within first 3 months of the onset of stroke. Treatments such as acupuncture received during the initial phase are best to be done at a higher frequency.

Clinical studies have demonstrated the efficacy of TCM in various aspects of stroke recovery such as motor function recovery, improving swallowing difficulties, post stroke depression and insomnia. Therefore, TCM when combined with routine Western treatment may be an effective complementary alternative treatment which aids in the recovery of stroke patients especially during post stroke rehabilitation.

Jeraldine Seah is a licensed Chinese Medicine Physician and is practicing as an acupuncturist at Singapore General Hospital’s Acupuncture Services. She graduated with a Double Degree in Biomedical Sciences and Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

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