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Pulse Diagnosis

By Michelle Fletcher

Traditional Medicine (TCM) uses several diagnostic methods used in their practices, including herbology, qi-gong, moxibustion, and acupuncture. Practically unheard-of by the general public, pulse diagnosis is a diagnostic technique used to determine imbalances in the three Doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – which further identify the presence and location of certain disorders within the patient’s body.

“Pulse diagnosis is a convenient, inexpensive, painless, and non-invasive diagnosis,” said researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China. In TCM, six pulses may be examined by the palpation of the radial artery. Acupuncturists and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine use a very intricate system of pulse measurement and rely carefully upon on observations rather than diagnostic tools. Skilled doctors of this technique can find health problems with a quick touch.

When performing a pulse diagnosis, doctors will use three fingers to feel the pulse, and particular conditions are indicated depending upon the pulse characteristics that each finger feels. Doctors then note heart rate, deep and shallow readings of the pulse, and experiment reading the pulse when pressing lightly and hard on the artery. Doctors of Ayurveda believe that the pulse indicates how prana (life energy) flows through the body and indicate conditions of internal organs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine will check six different positions on each wrist, corresponding to the 12 internal organs. Each position has three depths to check. “In all, the pulse can have 36 different qualities,” Dupler said in his article. “Some of the observations noted during pulse diagnosis include the position of the artery, whether it is deep or shallow, the hardness or softness of the artery, the diameter of the blood vessel, the rate and strength of the pulse, and the rhythm of the heartbeat.”

Pulse Diagnosis is never performed by itself for making medical conclusions. It is typically used with a number of other diagnostic techniques, including observation of the tongue, temperature, body moisture, and other characteristics.

Recent studies prove the effectiveness of pulse diagnosis in TCM. “Studies indicate that wiry, slippery, and rapid pulse, or simply wiry and rapid pulse, often denotes exacerbation of the illness [cancer]. When slippery and rapid pulse, wiry and rapid pulse, or weak and rapid pulse appears post-operatively in patients with carcinoma, one should seriously consider the possibility of an incomplete operation. Owing to difficulty in inspection of tongue features of patients with oral or facial neoplasms, physicians often resort to pulse-taking to follow-up with the patient, and it is found that the chi pulse is weakened in 50%, and absent in 25% of the patients, which is statistically significant in comparison with the pulse of normal subjects.”

Pulse diagnosis remains an important part of the practice of traditional Chinese medicine that is still being explored and developed, and may help in determining illness and disorders in patients.


Xu, L. et al. Baseline wanderer correction in pulse waveforms using wavelet-based cascaded adaptive filter. Comput Biol Med. 2007 May; 37(5):716-31.

Dupler, Douglas. “Pulse Diagnosis.” LookSmart.com Accessed June 5, 2007.

Yu Guiqing, et al., New progress in the four diagnostic methods of cancer, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1990; 10(2): 152-155.

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