I. Yin and Yang
The theory of yin and yang is a kind of world outlook. It holds that all things have two opposite aspects, yin and yang, which are both opposite and at the same time interdependent. This is a universal law of the material world. These two aspects are in opposition to each other but because one end of the spectrum cannot exist without the other they are interdependent.
The ancient Chinese used water and fire to symbolize yin and yang; anything moving, hot, bright and hyperactive is yang, and anything quiescent, cold, dim and hypoactive is yin.
The yin and yang properties of things are not absolute but relative. As an object or person changes so the yin and yang components change at a gradual rate. Each of the yin and yang properties of the object is a condition for the existence of the other; neither can exist in isolation.
These two opposites are not stationary but in constant motion. If we imagine the circadian rhythm, night is yin and day is yang; as night (yin) fades it becomes day (yang), and as yang fades it becomes yin. Yin and yang are therefore changing into each other as well as balancing each other.
The Application of Yin and Yang to Chinese Medicine
Each organ has an element of yin and yang within it. The histological structures and nutrients are yin, and the functional activities are yang. Some organs are predominantly yang in their functions, such as the gan-liver, while others are predominantly yin, such as the shen-kidney. Even though one organ may be predominantly yin (or yang) in nature, the balance of yin and yang is maintained in the whole healthy body because the sum total of the yin and yang will be in a fluctuating balance.
If a condition of prolonged excess or deficiency of either yin or yang occurs then disease results. In an excess of yin the yang qi would be damaged, and a disease of cold of shi nature would develop. Excess of yang will consume yin and a disease of heat of shi nature would develop. In a deficiency of yin, diseases of heat of xu nature develop, while a deficiency of yang causes diseases of cold of xu nature.
II. The Channels and Collaterals
The channels and collaterals are the representation of the organs of the body. They are also a functional system in their own right and they are responsible for conducting the flow of qi and blood through the body. The flow of qi can be disrupted by direct damage to the channels, such as trauma, or by an internal imbalance of yin and yang within the body.
The central principle of traditional Chinese medicine is to diagnose the cause of the internal disease, or yin yang imbalance within the body, and, by using the relevant acupuncture points, to correct the flow of qi in the channels and thus correct the internal disease. The acupuncture points that are on the channels have a direct influence on the flow of qi through the channels, and also on the internal organs. The zang channels are yin in nature and the fu channels are yang in nature.
Qi circulates through the channels of the body in a well defined circadian rhythm.
III. Zang and Fu Organs
The zang and fu organs are the internal visible organs of the body. The xin-heart, gan-liver, pi-spleen, fei-lung, shen-kidney and pericardium are the zang organs. The small intestine, large intestine, stomach, gall-bladder, urinary bladder and sanjiao are the fu organs.
The zang organs have a Chinese prefix because a direct translation from the Chinese might be misleading. The Chinese xin has functions rather different from the concept of the heart in Western medicine, so if we call the heart ‘xin-heart’, or the liver ‘gan-liver’, we are able to understand that we are referring to the organ of the heart or the liver, but it is really rather different from our concept of those organs.
The zang organs are of paramount importance in the body. They co-ordinate with the fu organs and connect with the five tissues (channels, jin1 muscles, skin-hair, bones), and the nine openings (eyes, nose, ears, mouth, tongue, anus and external genitalia), to form the system of the Five Zang. The pericardium is not considered to be an important zang organ.
The xin-heart dominates the circulation of blood. When it functions properly the tissues and organs are well perfused and nourished, but when it malfunctions there is precordial pain, cyanosis and ischaemia. This disease is due to ‘stagnation of the blood of xin-heart’.
The xin-heart ‘keeps’ the mind. Normally there is a clear mind, normal mentality, normal sleep and a good memory. When this fails there is coma, insomnia or somnolence, amnesia and mental derangement, because the xin-heart is failing to ‘keep’ the mind.
The xin-heart takes the tongue as its orifice and opens through it. Normally the tongue is reddish, moist, and moves freely. When the tongue has ulcers, is swollen or becomes purplish-red, there is ‘upward blazing of the fire in xin-heart’. When the tongue is rigid and curled up (this may be accompanied by mental symptoms) ‘phlegm and heat are covering the orifice of the xin-heart’.
The gan-liver is the main yang organ of the body.
The gan-liver stores blood. Normally there is sufficient blood supply to all tissues. When this fails there is ischaemia, dizziness, malaise, abnormal menstruation and hemorrhage.
The gan-liver takes charge of freeing. Freeing really means the free flow of blood and qi through the body, especially digestion and the discharge of bile. When this is impaired there is irritability, mental depression, anorexia, abdominal distension and jaundice.
The gan-liver controls the jin which governs the muscle tone. When this function is disturbed there is muscle spasm, twitching, opisthotonos and convulsions. This is due to an ‘insufficiency of yin and blood of the gan-liver, resulting in the malnutrition of the jin’.
The gan-liver takes the eye as its orifice and opens through it. Usually there is normal vision and normal eye movement. When this function is disturbed there is poor vision, night blindness, nystagmus and abnormal eye movements. This is due to an ‘insufficiency of yin and blood in the gan-liver causing malnutrition of the eyes and stirring of the inner wind of the gan-liver.’
The pi-spleen governs the transportation and transformation of food, i.e. digestion. When digestion is abnormal there is anorexia, distension of the abdomen, diarrhea, emaciation, lassitude and oedema. This is due to ‘a deficiency of the qi of pi-spleen’.
The pi-spleen commands the blood. Normally the blood circulates within the blood vessels but when this function fails there is extravasation of blood, chronic recurrent hemorrhage and bruising.
The pi-spleen dominates the muscles. This really means controlling the muscle bulk. Normally there is no muscle wasting, but when there is malnutrition of the muscles they are weak and wasted.
The pi-spleen takes the mouth as its orifice and opens through it. Normal people have a good appetite, a sense of smell and taste and red and moist lips. Abnormally there is anorexia, tastelessness or a sweetish, greasy taste, and pale sore lips. This is due to ‘heat and damp in the pi-spleen’.
In addition the qi of pi-spleen lifts and fixes the internal organs in their normal position.
The fei-lung takes charge of respiration. Normally respiration is even and the tissues are well oxygenated. When this function fails breathing is uneven, there is a cough, dyspnoea, shallow respiration and anoxia. This is due to ‘a deficiency of qi of fei-lung which causes an impairment of dissipation and descent of clean qi (oxygen).
The fei-lung frees and regulates the water passage. This function covers the transportation and distribution of nutrients and water, the secretion of sweat and the excretion of urine. Abnormally there will be hyperhydrosis or hypohydrosis, oedema and difficulty in urination due to ‘obstruction of the water passage’.
The fei-lung dominates the hair and skin. Normally the skin is lubricious, the hair lustrous, and sweating is normal. Abnormally the skin is rough, the hair dry and withered and the skin is ‘loose’. This looseness opens the pores and increases the susceptibility to invasion by pathogenic factors.
The fei-lung takes the nose as its orifice and opens through it. Normally the nose is open and there is an acute sense of smell. Abnormally it may be obstructed, there may be anosmia, epistaxis and flaring of the alae nasi (usually accompanied by fever). This is due to ‘invasion of the fei-lung by wind and cold or wind and heat’.
The shen-kidney is the main yin organ of the body. The shen-kidney dominates growth, reproduction and development. When this function fails there is a loss of reproductive function, retardation of growth, failure to thrive, and premature senility due to ‘an insufficiency of the qi of shen-kidney’.
The shen-kidney produces marrow, filling the brain with marrow, dominating the bones and producing blood. Normally the spinal cord and the brain are fully developed, the bones are strong and the blood sufficient. Abnormally there will be dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia, poor memory and lassitude. The bones will be weak and brittle and the blood will be insufficient. This is due to ‘an insufficiency of the essence of shen-kidney’.
The shen-kidney controls body water. This entails normal urine production and micturition. Abnormally there will be oliguria or anuria, oedema, difficult or dribbling micturition, polyuria, enuresis and incontinence. This is due to ‘an insufficiency of yang of the shen-kidney failing to control body water’.
The shen-kidney controls the intake of clean qi (air). Abnormally there will be wheezing due to ‘the failure of the shen-kidney to control the intake of clean air’.
The shen-kidney takes the ear as its orifice, opening through it. Normally there is sharp hearing, abnormally there is tinnitus, hearing loss, and even total deafness.
This may be called the organ of circulation in some texts. It is the least important of the zang organs.
It encloses and protects the xin-heart and the diseases of the pericardium result in dysfunction of the xin-heart.
The Functions of the Fu Organs
In general the traditional functions of the fu organs are very similar to their functions in Western medicine. Each fu organ channel connects internally and externally with a zang organ channel. This can have therapeutic importance in that a point on the fu channel may be used to treat a problem on its connected zang channel, and vice versa.
The small intestine
The small intestine connects with the xin-heart. The small intestine receives and digests food from the stomach. It absorbs the pure part and distributes it to the whole body, the impure part going on to the large intestine. This function of the small intestine belongs to the transforming and transporting function of the pi-spleen.
The gall-bladder connects with the gan-liver. It stores and discharges bile. The expulsion of bile from the gall-bladder is closely related to the freeing function of the gan-liver. The gan-liver and the gall-bladder take charge of freeing together, and jaundice results when this function is deranged.
The stomach connects with the pi-spleen. The stomach stores and digests food, passing it on to the small intestine. A deficiency of qi of the stomach causes indigestion, epigastric pain and sour regurgitation When the qi of the stomach ascends then nausea, heartburn, vomiting, hiccoughs and flatulence occur.
The large intestine
The large intestine connects with the fei-lung. The large intestine absorbs the residue of water and turns the rest of the food into feces. Disturbance of this function results in diarrhea or constipation due to the ‘descent of qi’.
The urinary bladder
The urinary bladder connects with the shen-kidney. The bladder stores and then discharges urine from the body.
In Chinese the sanjiao means the three cavities. The xin-heart and the fei-lung are in the upper jiao (the chest), and they transport qi and blood to all parts of the body in order to nourish the body. The pi-spleen and stomach are in the middle jiao (the epiastrium) and they digest and absorb food. The shen-kidney and bladder are in the lower jiao (the hypogastrium) and they control water metabolism and the storage and excretion of water. The sanjiao is also sometimes called the triple warmer organ. This is because the three body cavities are intended to control the body temperature.
The brain is a sea of marrow, i.e. it is an enlarged part of the spinal cord. The shen-kidney produces the marrow that fills the brain. If the essence of shen-kidney is absent then there is inadequate marrow for the brain. In traditional Chinese medicine the function of the mind is included in that of the xin-heart.
The function of the uterus is to control the menstrual cycle, develop the embryo and nourish the foetus. The qi and blood of the channels pass into the uterus through the chong and the ren channels, so that the qi of the body is able to influence the flow and regularity of the menstrual cycle.
Qi, blood and body fluid are important substances and structures in the body. They sustain the vital activities and they nourish the body, thereby keeping the functions of the tissues, organs and channels in good order. The production and circulation of qi and blood also depends on the health of the tissues and organs that are nourished by these substances.
Qi is a complex concept; it relates to both substance and function. Clean qi (oxygen), waste qi (carbon dioxide) and qi (nutrients) are generally known as material qi, and the existence of material qi is shown by the functional activity of various organs. The function of an organ depends on the functional qi of that organ; for instance, qi of xin-heart or qi of pi-spleen is the vital energy and functional activity of the xin-heart or pi-spleen. The function of an organ, or its functional qi, cannot exist without material qi, and vice versa.
Zhong qi is found mainly in the chest. It nourishes the structures and functions of the xin-heart and fei-lung.
Nourishing qi circulates in the channels and collaterals, mainly in the viscera
Defensive qi is in the muscles and skin. It circulates outside the channels, in the subcutaneous tissues, and it defends the body against invasion by pathogens.
The original qi is nourished and maintained by qi derived after birth. These combine to form genuine qi, i.e. the total sum of qi in the healthy body. This contrasts with pathogenic factors that are known as pathogenic qi.
The nutrients from food are digested by the pi-spleen and stomach and they are then transported to the xin-heart and fei-lung and turned into red (oxygenated) blood by qi. The essence of shen-kidney produces bone marrow, and bone marrow uses the digested food to produce blood.
Qi of shen-kidney promotes digestion by pi-spleen, which in turn strengthens the xin-heart and fei-lung. This interaction therefore promotes haemopoesis.
There is a close relationship between qi and blood. The formation and circulation of blood depends on qi, whereas the formation and distribution of qi, as well as the health of the various organs of the body, is dependent on adequate nourishment from the blood. If the flow of blood ‘stagnates’ the circulation of qi is ‘retarded’ and, conversely, if the circulation of qi is ‘retarded’ then the blood flow ‘stagnates’.
Body fluid is formed from food and drink. It exists in the blood, the tissues, and all the body openings and cavities.
In traditional Chinese Medicine various elements and other factors cause disease. These are known as pathogenic factors or pathogens. Normally the human body is able to resist pathogens and maintain a healthy balance between the body and the environment. This ability is a function of normal qi, especially the defensive qi.
Disease develops because normal qi is unable to resist the onslaught of the pathogenic qi; if pathogenic qi overwhelms normal qi then a functional disturbance of the body results. The major principle of treating a disease in Chinese medicine is to strengthen and protect normal qi and maintain a healthy body. In ancient China a physician was only paid while his patient was healthy, not while his patient was ill!
These are divided into three main groups, exogenous pathogens, mental pathogens and various miscellaneous pathogens. ‘Phlegm and humour’ and ‘stagnant blood’ are pathological products; once they are formed new pathological changes will ensue so they are considered to be secondary pathogens.
Pathological factors serve as a generalization of clinical symptoms and signs, reflecting the struggle of normal qi and pathogenic qi. By differentiating the clinical symptoms and signs the cause of the disease can be traced, and then treatment can be determined. In order to do this the diseased organs must be defined and the pathogen causing that disease must also be diagnosed. This is called the ‘determination of treatment on the basis of the differentiation of a syndrome’, and it is the basis of diagnosis and treatment in Chinese medicine.
The Exogenous Pathogens
These refer to six relatively abnormal meteorological conditions; wind, cold, summer heat, damp, dryness and heat (fire, warmth). The diseases caused by these pathogens include most viral, bacterial and protozoal diseases and some ‘allergic’ conditions such as urticaria.
cold and damp normal qi of
invade pi spleen pi-spleen is
impairing its function overpowered
symptoms of disease— impairment of the
anorexia. abdominal distention, function of pi-spleen
pain, diarrhoca, cold extremities,
greasy white tongue, deep thready pulse
This pathogen is characterized by movability (of symptoms) and changeability. The clinical manifestations are abnormal limb motion, such as spasm or twitching, and a wandering symptomatic site as in urticaria or arthralgia. The symptoms may vary in intensity and they usually include a dislike of wind, fever, sweating, headache and an itchy throat.
Invasion of cold will consume the yang causing a contraction of the channels and the blood vessels, and therefore a poor circulation of qi and blood. The symptoms are those of a slight fever, a dislike of cold, hypohydrosis, headache, muscular pain and spasm, and occasionally a dark blue and painful area in the local muscles and skin; a frozen shoulder is a good example of the pathogen cold.
This only occurs in the summer; it damages the yin and may progress to affect the level of consciousness. The symptoms are excessive body heat, profuse sweating, thirst, a dry mouth, dry red skin and, in severe cases, delirium (this is known as heat exhaustion in Chinese medicine). Summer heat may combine with wind and cause convulsions. Summer heat often combines with damp to produce dizziness, nausea, a stuffy sensation in the chest and general malaise.
Diseases caused by damp are sticky, muddy, greasy and stagnant. Damp causes a generalized heavy feeling associated with distension, dizziness and a heavy head, general malaise and a stuffy sensation in the chest. The patient may also complain of abdominal swelling and an exudative and prolonged skin disease.
Dryness consumes yin fluid. There may be a dry sore feeling in the nose, mouth and throat, a coarseness of the skin, or a cough with scanty sputum and possibly haemoptysis. Tuberculosis is an example of the pathogen dryness.
Heat (fire, warmth)
All these represent the same pathogen, but at different intensities. Fire is the most severe and warmth the mildest. As with summer heat the yin may be damaged and this will affect the level of consciousness. The main difference is that summer heat only occurs in the summer and is generally less severe than fire. Diseases that are caused by heat are generally of abrupt onset and rapid change, they are nearly always acute infections. Initially the patient may complain of a high fever, chill, thirst, restlessness, irritability and profuse sweating. In severe cases the patient may be in coma with convulsions.
These are overjoy, anger, anxiety, overthinking, grief, fear and fright.
Excessive fear and fright, or overjoy, injures the xin-heart. This causes palpitations, insomnia, irritability, anxiety and mental abnormality.
Excessive anger causes dysfunction of the gan-liver. This impairs the function of freeing, and causes pain and distention in the costal and hypochondriac region, abnormal menstruation, depression and irritability. If the function of storing blood is disturbed then menorrhagia and hemorrhage can result.
Excessive grief, anxiety and overthinking cause dysfunction of the pi-spleen and stomach. This causes anorexia and a feeling of fullness or distension after meals.
Excessive grief, anxiety and anger cause poor circulation of qi and blood. If there is retardation of qi and stagnation of blood then this can cause a tumor.
Overeating, or eating too much uncooked or cold food, impairs the function of pi-spleen and stomach and causes nausea, vomiting, heartburn, sour regurgitation and diarrhea, for example dyspepsia, gastritis and enteritis.
Over-indulgence in alcohol and an excess of fatty or hot, pungent food produces damp and heat, or phlegm and heat, in the pi-spleen and stomach. Initially dyspepsia results but in more severe cases hypertension, enteritis, gastritis, cirrhosis, cancer or ischaemic heart disease can result. All these are related to nutritional habits.
Too little food intake, or lack of some essential material in food may cause malnutrition. This results in a deficiency of qi and blood which causes emaciation, lassitude, palpitations and sometimes coma.
The intake of contaminated food may impair the function of pi-spleen and stomach, and cause intestinal infections and various parasitic diseases.
Too little or excessive physical labor
Excessive physical labor results in feebleness, emaciation, palpitations and dizziness.
Too little physical exercise causes a poor circulation, limp muscles, soft bones and obesity. This lowers the resistance of the body to disease.
These are the same as in Western medicine.
Stagnant blood and phlegm and humour are pathogenic products that may cause further pathological change if they are not eliminated. They have substantive and non-substantive meanings. Substantively they could be described as a blood clot or sputum, the non-substantive meaning is a generalization of a clinical syndrome, for instance, the stertorous breathing that may occur after a severe stroke is described as ‘phlegm covering the orifice of the xin-heart’.
Stagnant blood can cause pain. The painful area is fixed and has a stabbing, boring or colicky nature.
Stagnant blood causes hemorrhage. This produces deep purple blood, often with clots.
Stagnant blood causes ecchymosis or petechia.
Stagnant blood can cause a mass. This can be any sort of mass, tumor, splenomegaly or hepatomegaly.
Phlegm and humour
Phlegm and humour are formed when water metabolism is disordered; an accumulation of excess water then turns into phlegm or humour. Phlegm and humour in the lung causes cough, dyspnoca and excessive sputum.
Phlegm and humour in the stomach causes abdominal distension and a succussion sound.
Phlegm covering the heart orifice causes coma and a rattling sound from the sputum in the throat, such as in a stroke.
Phlegm blocking the channels and collaterals causes hemiplegia, numbness of the extremities and difficulty in speech, such as in a stroke.
Phlegm accumulating subcutaneously occurs when there is a subcutaneous lymph node.
VI. Differentiation of Disease According to the Eight Principles
This is the diagnostic system of Chinese traditional medicine. The notes in the ensuing section explain the broad principles of diagnosis, using the history and examination of the patient as a basis.
Diseases are either exterior or interior. If a pathogen such as cold invades the body then it may be superficial or exterior in its damaging effect, such as the common cold, or it may be deep or interior, such as septicaemia. Usually diseases of the exterior show mild fever, headache, generalized aches and pains, and a superficial pulse. Diseases of the interior are characterized by a high fever, thirst, restlessness, delirium, vomiting, diarrhea, a purplish-red tongue proper, with a white or yellow coating and a deep pulse.
Disease may be hot or cold. This means they may be due to the pathogen factors cold or heat. Diseases of heat show the signs of an acute infection or intestinal obstruction, whereas diseases of cold are more chronic in nature. Diseases of cold are characterized by a dislike of cold, pallor, loose stool, polyuria, a large flabby white tongue with a white coating, and a slow or deep and thready pulse. Diseases of heat show fever, dislike of heat, thirst, a red face, constipation, red scanty urine, and a red tongue proper with a yellow coating, associated with a rapid pulse.
Diseases may be xu or shi: Diseases of xu are usually more chronic in nature and are due to a deficiency of either the yin or the yang within the body. The patient is in low spirits, pale, emaciated, has palpitations and the tongue proper is light or red with a white or yellow coating, and there is a xu pulse. A shi disease is often more acute and is due to an excess of the yin or the yang within the body. This presents with irritability, distension and fullness of the chest and abdomen, scanty urine and dysuria, a red or white tongue proper with a yellow or white coating, and a shi or forceful pulse. There is a great deal of reference to xu and shi and it is important to realize that xu really means a deficiency, and shi really means an excess.
The last two principles are yin and yang. They are the generalization of the above ideas, which have already been discussed in Part I of this section.
VII. Methods Of Diagnosis
See mental pathogens.
A red face occurs with febrile diseases, a pale wizened face is due to anaemia or xu diseases, a yellow face occurs in jaundice and a purple face occurs in anoxia, severe pain or stagnation of blood.
Body build, posture and motion
In an obese person there is a chronic deficiency of qi with invasion of phlegm and damp, while in an emaciated person there is hyperactivity of fire due to a deficiency of yin. Paralysis of the limbs indicates insufficiency of qi and blood with blocked channels and collaterals. Convulsions and muscle spasm are often due to an invasion of the channels by wind, due to an insufficiency of yin.
Examination of the tongue
This is a most important diagnostic tool; the tongue is divided into the tongue proper and the tongue coating. A normal tongue has a pink tongue proper with a white clear coating over the tongue.
The tongue proper
A light coloured tongue proper: A light tongue proper indicates insufficiency of qi and blood, invasion of cold, and xu of yang.
A red tongue proper: A red tongue proper indicates diseases due to heat, or internal diseases of heat due to xu of yin.
A purplish-red tongue proper: This occurs in acute diseases of heat when heat has been transmitted from the exterior of the body to the interior, for instance septicaemia. It can also be seen in diseases that exhaust the body fluid, causing hyperactivity of yang due to an insufficiency of yin, for instance terminal carcinoma.
A purplish tongue proper: A purple or bluish-purple tongue proper indicates retardation of qi and stagnation of blood, causing internal cold due to xu of yang, for instance ischaemic heart disease or heart failure.
A large flabby tongue proper: A large and flabby tongue proper with teeth marks indicates xu of qi and xu of yang, for instance chronic enteritis. If there are purplish-red spots on the tongue then this means that there is an invasion of heat.
A streaked tongue proper: Some people have a congenital streaked tongue (this is called a geographical tongue in Western medicine) and it must be ignored. Streaks or red prickles on the tongue normally indicate hyperactivity of fire causing consumption of the body fluid and this is often found after infectious diseases.
Stiff and tremulous tongue proper: The tongue shows fasciculation and it may curl up. This is often accompanied by indistinct speech and mental disorders and indicates disturbance of the mind by phlegm and heat, or deficiency of yin of the gan-liver.
The tongue coating
A white coating: A thick white coating indicates stagnation of food, for instance dyspepsia.
A white greasy coating indicates invasion by the pathogen cold and damp, or phlegm, for instance chronic bronchitis.
A white powder-like coating indicates invasion by plague, for instance typhoid.
A yellow coating: A thick yellow coating indicates chronic indigestion.
A thin yellow coating indicates invasion of fei-lung by wind and heat, for instance a cold.
A greasy yellow coating indicates internal damp and heat, or phlegm and heat, for instance bacillary dysentry or a lung abscess.
A charring yellow coating indicates the accumulation of heat in the intestines which damages the yin, for instance infectious diseases of the intestine.
A yellow tongue coating may also be caused by smoking.
A greyish- black coating: A grayish-black slippery coating indicates excessive cold due to xu of yang, and this occurs in certain types of dyspepsia.
A grayish-black dry coating indicates exhaustion of the body fluids due to excessive heat, for instance dehydration.
A peeling coating: When the tongue coating is partially or completely peeled off the tongue proper can be seen. This indicates severe damage of the normal qi and an extreme deficiency of yin, for instance the late stages of terminal cancer.
Listening to the speech
Speaking in a low feeble voice indicates diseases of xu nature and sonorous speech indicates shi diseases. A partial loss of consciousness means that heat and phlegm are covering the heart orifice. Talking to oneself means that there is a derangement of the mind, and indistinct speech often means that the channels are blocked by wind and phlegm.
Listening to the respiration
Feeble respiration with dyspnoea and excessive sweating indicates xu of qi of the xin-heart and fei-lung. Heavy respiration, with a productive cough, indicates a shi disease of fei-lung due to an accumulation of phlegm and heat, or phlegm and humour, in fei-lung.
Listening to the cough
A heavy unclear cough is caused by invasion of fei-lung with wind and cold, or accumulation of cold and humour in fei-lung. A loud clear cough often indicates wind and heat, or phlegm and heat, in fei-lung. A dry cough with minimal sputum is often caused by a chronic xu of yin of fei-lung, for instance tuberculosis.
A rank foul smell of any discharge or secretion indicates a disease of shi nature (infection). A light smell indicates a disease of xu nature, for instance scanty red urine with a foul smell indicates a hot shi-disease, like cystitis, while clear profuse urine indicates a cold xu disease, like diabetes insipidus.
This is best summed up by the translation of an old Chinese text called the ten askings:
One ask chill and fever, two perspiration, three ask head and trunk, four stool and urine, five food intake and six chest. Deafness and thirst are seven and eight, nine past history and ten causes. Besides this you should ask about the drugs taken, and for women patients you should ask their menstrual and obstetric history. Finally, for infants, ask about the normal childhood diseases.
This section is included purely for interest as the method of taking a history so clearly corresponds with that used in Western medicine.
Palpation of the pulse
The pulse provides a great deal of the information gained from palpation, although a mass or trauma will obviously have to be examined on a more Westernized basis. In classical Chinese medicine there are six pulses at each wrist. These pulses occupy three positions at each wrist over the radial artery, and each position has a deep and superficial pulse. Each of these pulses represents a different organ and in this way all twelve of the zang fu organs are represented by a wrist pulse. The character of the pulse indicates the state of health of each organ and also the balance between each organ. Although traditional pulse diagnosis is still used in China we were taught a much simpler form of pulse ‘generalization’ rather than the traditional pulse diagnosis, and it is this purse ‘generalization’ that will be discussed in the following section.
A superficial pulse: This pulse responds to the finger when pressed lightly and becomes weak on heavy pressure. It is often seen in the early stages of diseases caused by exogenous pathogens, such as infections.
A deep pulse: This pulse is not clear on superficial palpation but it is felt on deep pressure. It is often seen in interior diseases such as glomerulonephritis.
A slow pulse: This pulse is less than sixty beats per minute; it may be normal or it may be seen in atrio-venticular block, i. e. diseases of cold.
A rapid pulse: This pulse is greater than sixty beats per minute; it is often seen in diseases of heat.
A xu pulse: The pulse is weak and forceless and goes on heavy pressure. This is seen in diseases of xu nature, such as malnutrition or diseases of pi-spleen.
A shi pulse. The pulse is forceful and will not go on deep palpation; it is seen in shi diseases.
A large pulse: This is an abundant pulse; it is like a surging wave and is seen in diseases of shi nature and heat.
A thready pulse: This is like a thready flow of water and it is often seen in xu diseases
A bowstring pulse. The pulse is hard and forceful and gives the sensation of pressing on the string of a bent bow. It may be normal or it may be seen in diseases where there is hyperactivity of the yang of the gan-liver.
A gliding pulse: This is round and forceful, like beads rolling on a plate. It is often seen in cases of indigestion or obstruction of phlegm. Sometimes a gliding pulse may be seen in a healthy person, especially in pregnancy.
An intermittent pulse. The pulse is irregular. This occurs in retardation of qi and stagnation of blood, causing a deficiency of qi in the xin-heart, such as atrial fibrillation.
Palpation for all other pathology, such as mass or trauma, follows the same rules as in Western medicine.
VIII. The Differentiation Of Syndromes
The Chinese described symptom pictures which allow the differentiation of specific Zang Fu syndromes. The major syndromes are described below and provide further useful information which will enable the acupuncturist to reach a clear Zang Fu diagnosis.
1. Weakness of the qi of the xin-heart
Clinical Manifestations: Palpitations, dyspnoea aggravated by exertion, a pale tongue and a thready xu or irregular pulse. If there is evidence of a deficiency of the yang of the xin-heart then cold limbs, pallor, and purplish lips can be found. Exhaustion of the yang of the xin-heart may manifest itself as profuse sweating, mental confusion and a fading, thready pulse.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is usually caused by general malaise after anxiety or a long illness, which injures the qi of the xin-heart. When the qi of the xin-heart is weak it fails to pump blood normally resulting in palpitations, dyspnoea and a thready irregular or xu pulse. Alternatively, a prolonged weakness of the qi of the xin-heart may lead to weakness of the yang of the xin-heart. When the body lacks yang it lacks energy and heat, therefore symptoms such as chills, cold limbs and pallor occur. If the yang of the xin-heart is exhausted, the defensive qi of the body surface can no longer protect the essential qi and lets it dissipate, this results in profuse sweating and a fading, thready pulse.
Clinical Manifestations: Palpitations, insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, anxiety and possible malar flush with a low grade fever. A red tongue proper and a thready and rapid pulse will also be found.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is usually due to damage of the yin by a febrile disease or anxiety, which consumes the yin of the xin-heart. Insufficiency of the yin of the xin-heart often leads to hyperactivity of the fibber of the xin-heart, resulting in the above symptoms. Insufficiency of the yin of the xin-heart may also cause insufficiency of the blood of the xin-heart. If this happens then there is not enough yin and blood to nourish the xin-heart, and the xin-heart fails in its function of keeping the mind. The symptoms of insomnia, poor memory and dream-disturbed sleep will therefore appear.
Clinical Manifestations: Palpitations, cardiac retardation and pain (paroxysms of pricking pain, or in more severe cases colicky pain often referred to the shoulders and the back), peripheral and central cyanosis and a thready or irregular pulse.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is due to anxiety leading to stagnation of qi and stagnation of blood. It may also be due to insufficiency of the qi of the xin-heart after a chronic illness; if the qi of the xin-heart is too weak to sustain the cardiac circulation then stagnation of blood of the xin-heart and obstruction of the blood vessels results. Stagnation of the blood often impedes the distribution of yang qi in the chest causing discomfort in the chest (angina) and peripheral cyanosis. A dark purplish tongue proper, or purple spots on the tongue, and a thready or irregular pulse are manifestations of stagnation of blood and confinement of the yang qi.
4. Hyperactivity of the fire of the xin-heart
Clinical Manifestations: Ulceration, swelling and pain in the mouth and tongue, insomnia accompanied by fever, a flushed face, a bitter taste in the mouth, hot, dark and yellow urine, a red tongue proper and a rapid pulse.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is often due to mental irritation which causes depression of qi. The depressed qi may turn into endogenous fire and disturb the mind, causing the symptoms of insomnia and fever to appear. As the xin-heart has the tongue as its orifice, and its function is reflected in the face, a disorder of the fire of the xin-heart may cause many of the above symptoms.
Clinical Manifestations: Depression, dullness, muttering to oneself, anxiety, incoherent speech, mania and in severe cases coma.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is often due to mental irritation which causes depression of qi. The body fluid stagnates to form damp and/or phlegm which causes blurring of the xin-heart and mind, resulting in dullness and depression. If the depressed qi turns into fire and the phlegm and fire disturb the xin-heart, anxiety, incoherent speech and mania result. Blurring of the mind by phlegm and/or damp, or phlegm and/or fire causes coma. A high fever, coma and delirium resulting from invasion of the pericardium by heat, are due to pathogenic heat invading deep into the interior of the body and disturbing the mind.
1. Depression of the qi of the gan-liver
Clinical manifestations: Hypochondrial and lower-abdominal pain and distension, a distended sensation in the breasts, discomfort in the chest and belching, sighing, or a sensation of a foreign body in the throat. Women may experience irregular periods.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is usually due to mental irritation causing depression of the qi of the gan-liver and stagnation of the qi in the liver channel. This leads to hypochondrial and lower abdominal pain and distension, a distended sensation in the breasts and discomfort in the chest. Stagnation of the qi of the gan-liver may affect the stomach, causing failure of the qi of the stomach to descend and resulting in belching. The sensation of a foreign body in the throat is due to stagnation of the qi of the liver channel, which with the phlegm forms a lump in the throat. Depression of the qi of the gan-liver and the subsequent lack of freeing may further impair the gan-liver’s function of blood storage. Stagnation of qi leads to stagnation of blood, the cause of irregular periods.
2. Flare-up of the fire of the gan-liver
Clinical manifestations: Dizziness, a distended sensation in the head, headache, red eyes, a bitter taste in the mouth, a flushed face, irritability and sometimes haematemesis and epistaxis can occur. The tongue proper is red with a yellow coating and the pulse is wiry and rapid.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is often due to a longstanding depression of the qi of the gan-liver which can turn into fire. It may also be due to over-indulgence in alcohol and tobacco causing an accumulation of heat which turns into fire. The upward disturbance of the fire of the gan-liver causes dizziness, a distended sensation in the head, headache, red eyes, a bitter taste in the mouth and a flushed face. Fire injures the gan-liver, causing impairment of its function in promoting the free flow of qi and this causes irritability. When the fire of the gan-liver injures the blood vessels it causes extravasation of blood and haematemesis and epistaxis can occur.
3. Stagnation of cold in the liver channel
Clinical manifestations: Lower-abdominal pain, swelling and distension in the testis with tenesmus. The scrotum may be cold and contracted and these symptoms can be alleviated by warmth. The tongue proper is pale with a white coating and the pulse deep and wiry or slow.
Aetiology and pathology: The liver channel curves around the external genitalia and passes through the lower abdomen. When cold, which is characterized by contraction and stagnation, stays in the liver channel, stagnation of the qi and blood may occur and cause lower-abdominal pain, swelling and distension of the testis with tenemus. Cold and contraction of the scrotum are also due to the pathogen cold.
Clinical manifestations: Dizziness, blurred vision, dry eyes, pallor, spasm of the tendons and muscles, numb limbs and a scanty light coloured menstrual flow with a prolonged cycle.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome often occurs after a hemorrhage or another chronic disease in which blood is destroyed, and the reserves of the gan-liver are depleted, thereby resulting in a failure of the gan-liver to nourish the channels. A xu (deficiency) of blood may cause endogenous wind so that the symptoms of muscle spasticity and numb limbs appear. An upward disturbance of endogenous wind (xu type) can cause dizziness and blurred vision. Insufficiency of the blood of the gan-liver and disruption of its blood storage function results in emptiness of the chong channel which will cause menstrual abnormalities.
5. Stirring of the wind of the gan-liver by heat
Clinical manifestations: High fever, convulsions, neck rigidity (Opisthotonos) and coma. A deep-red tongue proper and a wiry, rapid pulse are also found.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is due to transmission of the pathogen heat from the exterior to the interior, which burns the yin of the gan-liver and deprives the tendons and blood vessels of nourishment. Furthermore, pathogenic heat in the interior stirs up endogenous wind causing fever, convulsions and neck rigidity. Coma is due to pathogenic heat affecting the pericardium and disturbing the mind.
1. Weakness of the qi of the pi-spleen
Clinical manifestations: Sallow complexion, anorexia, loose stools, oedema, and lassitude. There may be distension and a bearing-down sensation in the abdomen, a prolapse of the rectum and/or uterus, or a chronic blood disorder such as purpura, bloody stools or uterine bleeding. A pale tongue proper and a thready xu pulse will be found on examination. If there is evidence of xu (deficiency) of the yang of the pi-spleen, symptoms of cold such as cold limbs will occur.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is often caused by irregular food intake, excessive mental strain or chronic disease. These problems result in weakness of the qi of the pi-spleen and impair its function of transportation and transformation, which consequently results in a poor appetite and loose stools. Accumulation of fluid in the interior is the cause of the oedema. The general malaise is due to a lack of food failing to provide a nourishing basis for blood formation. When the qi of the pi-spleen is weak, it loses its ability to uplift tissues so that there is distension, a bearing-down sensation in the abdomen and a prolapse of the rectum and/or uterus. Weakness of the qi of the pi-spleen also causes the blood disorders. Xu (deficiency) of the yen of the pi-spleen causes cold limbs.
2. Invasion of the pi-spleen by cold and damp
Clinical manifestations: Fullness and distension in the chest and epigastrium, a poor appetite, a heavy feeling in the head, malaise, borborygmii, abdominal pain and loose stools. A white sticky tongue coating and a thready pulse will be found.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome usually occurs after rain, or it may be due to over-indulgence of raw or cold food. In both cases the pathogen cold and damp injure the pi-spleen impairing its function of transportation and transformation and resulting in a poor appetite, borborygmii, abdominal pain and loose stools. As pathogenic damp is sticky and stagnant, it is liable to block the flow of qi causing a sensation of epigastric fullness and distension.
1. Invasion of the fei-lung by the pathogen wind
Clinical manifestations: An itchy throat and cough associated with fever and chills. If the wind is accompanied by cold then the patient usually feels cold and presents with nasal obstruction, a watery nasal discharge and mucoid sputum. The tongue coating is thin and white. If the wind is associated with heat, fever will be the most prominent symptom and will be associated with a red, swollen throat, a purulent nasal discharge and purulent sputum. The tongue coating will be yellow.
Aetiology and pathology: Invasion of the fei-lung by the pathogen wind disturbs its function of dispersal and descent. Normal respiration is affected producing the symptoms of cough and nasal obstruction. Cold is a yin pathogen and therefore liable to damage the yang qi. Consequently when wind is associated with cold, the sensation of cold will be more severe than that of fever and will be accompanied by a watery nasal discharge and white mucoid sputum. Heat is a yang pathogen, and if wind is accompanied by heat, fever will become the most prominent symptom and will be associated with a purulent nasal discharge and purulent sputum.
2. Retention of damp and/or phlegm in the fei-lung
Clinical manifestations: Cough, dyspnoea and white frothy Sputum The onset is generally precipitated by cold, and the tongue coating is white and sometimes sticky.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is due to the disturbance of the normal circulation of body fluid, the body fluid accumulates and precipitates the formation of damp/or phlegm. When damp and phlegm remain in the fei-lung the passage of qi is blocked and the functions of the fei-lung are impaired, this results in the above symptoms.
Clinical manifestations: Cough, dyspnoea, wheezing and thick yellow and/or green sputum (occasionally pus). This can be associated with rigors and a fever; the tongue proper is red with a yellow coating and there is a rapid pulse.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is caused by invasion of exogenous wind and/or heat, or wind and/or cold, which later develops into heat. The heat mixes with phlegm, which remains in the fei-lung and blocks the circulation of qi; this impairs the functions of the fei-lung and causes cough, dyspnoea and wheeze. Heat exhausts body fluid causing purulent sputum. When phlegm and heat are found in the fei-lung, stagnation of blood results which in turn leads to purulent, bloody sputum.
4. Insufficiency of the yin of the fei-lung
Clinical manifestations: A dry, unproductive cough associated with sticky, scant, blood-stained sputum, fever, a malar flush, a feverish sensation in the palms and soles, a dry mouth and night sweats. A red tongue proper and a thready and rapid pulse will be found.
Aetiology and pathology: Such symptoms are usually caused by chronic disease of the fei-lung, which consumes the yin and results in insufficiency of body fluid. The fei-lung is deprived of nourishment, its functions are impaired and this produces a dry mouth. Xu (deficiency) of yin causes endogenous heat which drives out body fluid and injures blood vessels, this results in a fever, a malar flush, a feverish sensation in the palms and soles, night sweats and bloody sputum.
1. Weakness of the qi of the shen-kidney
Clinical manifestations: A sore and weak sensation in the lumbar region and knee joints, urinary frequency, polyuria, dribbling, enuresis, urinary incontinence, dyspnoea, wheezing, and occasionally infertility. The pulse will be thready.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is often caused by malaise after a prolonged chronic illness, or may be the result of senility or congenital deficiency. Weakness of the qi of the shen-kidney results in an inability of the urinary bladder to control urination; this causes enuresis, incontinence, frequency and urgency. Shen-kidney stores essence (shen), but when the qi of the shen-kidney is deficient, infertility can result. When the qi of the shen-kidney is weak, it fails to help the fei-lung perform its function of descent, qi therefore attacks the fei-lung resulting in dyspnoca and wheezing.
2. Insufficiency of the yang of the shen-kidney
Clinical manifestations: These are broadly similar to the syndrome described as ‘Weakness of qi of the shen-kidney’. The major symptoms are a dull ache in the lumbar region and knee joints, cold, pallor, impotence, oliguria and oedema of the lower limbs. A pale, tooth-marked tongue and a deep thready pulse will be found.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome usually occurs after a prolonged chronic illness in which the yang of the shen-kidney is injured, it may occasionally be due to an excess of sexual activity which also injures the yang of the shen-kidney. In either instance, the yang of the shen-kidney fails to warm the body which results in cold aching sensations in the low back and knee joints, and impotence. Then shen-kidney controls water metabolism, and an insufficiency of the yang of the shen-kidney results in oliguria; the subsequent fluid excess presents with the symptom of oedema.
3. Insufficiency of the yin of the shen-kidney
Clinical manifestations: Blurred vision, tinnitus, amnesia, feverish sensation in the palms and soles, a malar flush, night sweats, hot yellow urine and constipation. The tongue proper will be red and the pulse thready and rapid.
Aetiology and pathology: This usually occurs after a prolonged chronic illness in which the yin of the shen-kidney is impaired, it may also be due to an over-indulgence in sexual activity, which consumes the shen-kidney. Either of these factors can result in the shen-kidney failing to produce marrow and maintaining normal cerebral function. The symptoms that result are dizziness, blurred of nourishment. Furthermore, pathogenic heat in the interior stirs up endogenous wind causing fever, convulsions and neck rigidity. Coma is due to pathogenic heat affecting the pericardium and disturbing the mind.
Syndromes of the Pericardium
The syndromes of the pericardium are seen clinically as the invasion of the pericardium by heat. The symptoms are a high fever, coma and delirium, these result from heat invading the interior of the belly, which in turn disturbs the mind.
Syndromes of the Small Intestine
Disturbance of the function of the small intestine is included in the syndromes of the pi-spleen, particularly with respect to its main function (transformation and transportation).
Damp and heat in the gall bladder
Clinical manifestations: Yellow sclera and skin, pain in the costal and hypochondrial region, pain in the right upper abdominal quadrant and a bitter taste in the mouth. Some patients may vomit sour and/or bitter fluid. The tongue coating is yellow and sticky.
Aetiology and pathology: The function of the gall bladder is to store and excrete bile, and this depends on the normal function of the gan-liver. Exogenous damp and/or heat (heat caused by depression of the gan-liver, damp and heat caused by overindulgence in alcohol and rich food) may accumulate in the gan-liver and gall bladder, thereby impairing the free flow of qi. Bile cannot therefore be secreted and freely excreted, and the subsequent biliary overflow causes jaundice, a bitter taste in the mouth and vomiting. Stagnation of the qi of the gan-liver and gall bladder also leads to stagnation of blood, causing right hypochondria! pain. This syndrome is closely related to the gan-liver, and is also known as ‘damp and heat in the gan-liver and gall bladder’.
1. Retention of food in the stomach
Clinical manifestations: Distension and pain in the epigastric region, anorexia, belching, heartburn and vomiting. The tongue has a thick sticky coating.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is usually caused by over-eating, which leads to the retention of undigested food in the stomach; the qi of the stomach ascends rather than descending.
2. Retention of fluid in the stomach due to cold
Clinical manifestations: The sensation of fullness associated with a dull epigastric pain, aggravated by cold and alleviated by warmth. The tongue coating will be white and sticky and the pulse thready or slow.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome usually follows a cold after rain, or may be precipitated by the excessive ingestion of raw or cold food. Either of these factors result in cold in the stomach which causes stagnation of qi and pain. Prolonged damage injures the yang qi of the pi-spleen and stomach so that body fluid is retained in the stomach instead of being transported and transformed, this results in vomiting.
3. Hyperactivity of the fire of the stomach
Clinical manifestations: A burning in the epigastrium, thirst, a preference for cold drinks, vomiting of undigested food or sour fluid, gingival swelling pain and ulceration, halitosis. The tongue proper will be red with a dry yellow coating.
Aetiology and pathology: This syndrome is usually due to overeating rich food, which causes heat to accumulate in the stomach. The heat consumes body fluid and causes the qi of the stomach to ascend. This results in a burning epigastric pain, thirst, a preference for cold drinks and vomiting. Halitosis and gingival ulceration are due to the fire element in the stomach.