Fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms seen in American healthcare facilities. When persistent tiredness has no other measurable physical cause, Western physicians often rely on a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Without using the CFS label, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have a markedly different approach toward categorizing and addressing chronically fatigued patients. For those fighting fatigue, combining the tools of Western medicine with the wisdom of TCM provides a greater likelihood of returning to full-strength energy levels.
About Their Differences
There are several differences in how allopathic physicians and doctors of TCM view health and disease. In general, allopathic providers evaluate illness by examining each body system separately. In contrast, Eastern medical professionals typically take a holistic perspective by stepping back to appreciate the patient’s wellness in its entirety.
- West – When addressing the symptom of fatigue, most Western physicians will systematically assess each involved body system’s health with a series of lab tests. If no pathology is found, a diagnosis of chronic fatigue is considered. Once a diagnosis is made, the illness is predominantly treated uniformly.
- East – Forming the foundation of Eastern medical thought, Traditional Chinese Medicine evaluates patients via pattern differentiation to detect what systems are unbalanced. Instead of checking for abnormalities identifiable under a microscope, TCM looks for weaknesses before they manifest into traditional disease markers. After determining the body’s weakest link, TCM practitioners target strengthening that weakness to positively benefit all of the body systems. Consequently, making lifestyle changes or providing therapy to rebalance the body’s weakest link often restores a person’s energy levels.
TCM Imbalances Likely to Cause Fatigue
As defined in TCM terms, the organs and their associated body systems incorporate much more than in Western medicine. For example, when discussing the lung system, the energy and emotions associated with the lung are intimately tied to its physiology. In TCM, four of the most common weaknesses and their corresponding patterns that can result in fatigue include:
- Lung Energy Deficiency – Often seen in the aftermath of a cold or flu, prolonged coughing can weaken the lung energy. This pattern typically involves fatigue, breathlessness, low voice, pale complexion, propensity to catch colds and depression.
- Spleen Energy Deficiency – Considered to be at the root of most cases of chronic tiredness, spleen energy deficiency can be caused by many things including prolonged illness, excessive physical exertion, poor eating habits and excessive mental strain. This pattern typically involves fatigue, low appetite, excessive worrying, bloating, gas, easy bruising and muscular weakness. Spleen energy deficiency easily allows fluids to accumulate and causes dampness which can manifest as a feeling of heaviness, loose stools and achy joints.
- Kidney Energy and Fluid Deficiency – This pattern may be genetic, or it can emerge from getting too little sleep, having excessive sex or using recreational drugs. The deficient kidney pattern may involve fatigue, lack of willpower, low back soreness, frequent urination, an overwhelming sense of fear, lack of sexual desire and either cold limbs or dizziness, tinnitus, dry mouth and throat, insomnia and night sweats.
- Liver Blood Deficiency – This imbalance is common with poor nutrition, in women with menstrual irregularities or after childbirth. A liver blood deficiency often manifests with fatigue, cramps, blurred vision, being easily startled, constipation, numb or tingling limbs, scanty periods and dry skin and hair.
Instead of using blood tests and X-rays, Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the subtle indicators that separate wellness from illness. TCM practitioners will guide their patients with acupuncture, herbal therapy, sleep rituals, regular exercise and nutritional guidance to fortify the weakened system. Once strengthened, balance among all body systems and energy levels are restored. For example, a person presenting with severe fatigue that is found to have a spleen energy deficiency will be:
- given acupuncture to strengthen the energy in the spleen
- prescribed herbs to strengthen the spleen and resolve dampness
- advised to stay away from heavy, fried and fatty foods that contribute to dampness and weaken digestion further
In a sense, the wisdom of TCM can detect and correct conditions way before Western medical tools can find any physiological problems. Allopathic physicians have the means and skills to recognize and treat serious illnesses, however, TCM practitioners can figure out what body weakness is causing the vague symptom of fatigue. Bridging the two worlds of Western diagnostics’ gross pathology with the Eastern analysis of pattern differentiation gives patients the most hope to abandon exhaustion in favor of strength, vigor and energy.