Irritable bowel syndrome according to Chinese Medicine

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Irritable bowel syndrome factsheet

In Chinese Medicine, irritable bowel syndrome can be associated with four so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here irritable bowel syndrome can be caused by four different patterns.

To understand whether someone's irritable bowel syndrome might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from irritable bowel syndrome alone. For instance when irritable bowel syndrome is caused by the pattern Spleen Qi Deficiency, patients also experience symptoms such as pale complexion, weak voice, poor appetite and loose stools. Similarly, patients with Spleen Qi Deficiency typically exhibit soggy (Ru) or weak (Ruo) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

We've listed below a description of the four patterns associated with irritable bowel syndrome so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below four formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with irritable bowel syndrome, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The four "patterns of disharmony" associated with irritable bowel syndrome

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Soggy (Ru), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formula: Si Jun Zi Tang

Symptoms: Weak voice Loose stools Poor appetite Pale complexion Weakness in the limbs

Irritable bowel syndrome might be due to Spleen Qi Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as pale complexion, weak voice, poor appetite and loose stools. Similarly, patients with Spleen Qi Deficiency typically exhibit soggy (Ru) or weak (Ruo) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

Read more about Spleen Qi Deficiency here

The Large Intestine is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine

Dryness in Large Intestine

Pulse type(s): Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale, Red

Recommended herbal formula: Zeng Ye Tang

Symptoms: Thirst Dry mouth Dizziness Dry stools Dry throat Bad breath Constipation Thin body lacking strength

Irritable bowel syndrome might be due to Dryness in Large Intestine if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as constipation, thirst, dry stools and dry mouth. Similarly, patients with Dryness in Large Intestine typically exhibit fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale, red tongue.

Read more about Dryness in Large Intestine here

Atractylodes Rhizomes (Bai Zhu) is the key herb for Yue Ju Wan, a formula used for Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

Recommended herbal formula: Yue Ju Wan

Symptoms: Belching Vomiting Acid reflux Indigestion Poor appetite Fixed pain in the hypochondria Mild coughing with copious sputum Stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen

Irritable bowel syndrome might be due to Qi Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen, fixed pain in the hypochondria, belching and vomiting. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation typically exhibit wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a normal (light red) tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Qi Stagnation here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the key herb for Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a formula used for Qi-Phlegm

Qi-Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Recommended herbal formula: Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang

Symptoms: Difficulty swallowing Stuffiness of chest and diaphragm Feeling of a lump in the throat which comes and goes

Irritable bowel syndrome might be due to Qi-Phlegm if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, feeling of a lump in the throat which comes and goes and stuffiness of chest and diaphragm. Similarly, patients with Qi-Phlegm typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with thick white coating.

Read more about Qi-Phlegm here

The four herbal formulas that might help with irritable bowel syndrome

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with irritable bowel syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Spleen Qi Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with irritable bowel syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Spleen Qi Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Zeng Ye Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and Essence. Lubricates Dryness.

Why might Zeng Ye Tang help with irritable bowel syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Dryness in Large Intestine, a pattern sometimes associated with irritable bowel syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Dryness in Large Intestine, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Zeng Ye Tang here

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Why might Yue Ju Wan help with irritable bowel syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation, a pattern sometimes associated with irritable bowel syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi Stagnation, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Yue Ju Wan here

Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the flow of Qi, treats esophageal spasm. Clears Phlegm.

Why might Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang help with irritable bowel syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi-Phlegm, a pattern sometimes associated with irritable bowel syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi-Phlegm, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang here