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Traditional Chinese Medicine Internal Organ Syndromes


Lung Syndromes
Lung Syndromes and fever
Fever may be a sign of
wind cold or wind heat.

Lung syndromes are common, as the lungs are in direct contact with the external environment; therefore, they are the organs most subject to attacks by external pernicious influences.

They are also prone to disorders of yin deficiency and dryness, due to their need for a somewhat moist environment to function. (Each organ has its "favorite" climate, and a moist environment helps the lungs function.) Since the lungs govern qi, they affect the energy of the entire body if they become qi deficient.

Lung Qi Deficiency: This syndrome is characterized by shortness of breath, weak voice, spontaneous sweating, chronic weak cough, fatigue, bright pale face, frequent colds, a weak pulse, and a pale tongue. Some corresponding Western conditions might be asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, allergies, depressed immune function, AIDS, and cancer. The treatment principle is to tonify lung qi with herbs such as ginseng (ren shen) and Astragalus (huang qi).

Lung Yin Deficiency: A chronic deficiency pattern, lung yin deficiency produces such symptoms as night sweats, low-grade fever, dry cough, small amounts of sticky phlegm or no phlegm, dry mouth, thirst, red cheeks, vocal distortions (weak voice, hoarseness, pitch changes), heat in the "five palms" (palms, soles, and sternum), red tongue with little or no coat, and a small rapid pulse. Western diagnoses are smoker's cough, tuberculosis, chronic sore throat, or chronic bronchitis. Treatment is to tonify lung yin and clear deficiency heat with herbs such as Rehmannia (sheng di huang) or Ophiopogon (mai men dong).

Wind Cold: This acute excess syndrome produces chills, possibly a mild fever, nasal congestion, head­aches, upper body aches, a cough with clear or white phlegm that is easy to expectorate, and a tight, floating pulse. The common cold, acute bronchitis, and the early stages of pneumonia are considered to be wind cold conditions in traditional Chinese medicine. The treatment principle is to "release the exterior" with warm, diaphoretic herbs such as Ephedra (ma huang).

Wind Heat: This acute pattern differs somewhat from wind cold due to the influence of heat. Symptoms include a fever worse than the chills, a loud cough with yellow phlegm, sore throat, and a rapid, floating pulse. Treatment involves cooling herbs that release the exterior, such as honeysuckle (jin yin hua) or field mint (bo he).

Damp Phlegm Blocking the Lung: Copious amounts of clear or white phlegm is the main symptom of this excess syndrome. Other symptoms are shortness of breath, fullness in the chest, a thick, greasy tongue coating, slippery pulse, and a worsening of the symptoms when lying down. Corresponding Western conditions are chronic bronchitis with an acute episode, asthma, and bronchiectasis. Treatment involves herbs that clear phlegm from the lungs such as Pinellia (ban xia).

Hot Phlegm Stagnation: A serious internal excess pattern, hot phlegm stagnation produces such symptoms as difficulty breathing, thirst, a loud, frequent cough with green-yellow or bloody phlegm, a fishy smell on the breath, constipation, dark urine, chest pain, high fever, red tongue with a thick yellow coat, and a slippery, rapid pulse. Western diagnoses could be lung abscess, acute bronchitis, or pneumonia. Cooling antibiotic herbs, such as Houttuynia (yu xing cao) and Scutellaria (huang qin), are used.

Dryness Attacking the Lung: Symptoms of this syndrome include a dry cough, dry and cracked tongue coat, loss of voice, dry nose, sore, dry throat, and a floating, rapid pulse. Although it shares some aspects of yin deficiency, dryness attacking the lung is acute and external, while yin deficiency is chronic and internal. Another distinguishing factor is the lack of deficiency heat signs such as night sweats and "five palm heat." Some corresponding Western conditions are the common cold, acute bronchitis, later-stage pneumonia, allergy, and dehydration due to an overly dry environment. Herbs that moisten the lungs and release the exterior, such as Phragmites (lu gen) and kudzu (ge gen), are used.

On the next page, find out about syndromes that affect the spleen -- an organ vital to digestion and the circulatory system -- and how to treat spleen syndromes.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

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