Migraine according to Chinese Medicine

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Migraine factsheet

In Chinese Medicine, migraine can be associated with nine 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 migraine can be caused by nine different patterns.

To understand whether someone's migraine 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 migraine alone. For instance when migraine is caused by the pattern Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner, patients also experience symptoms such as lower abdominal pain, night fever, delirious speech and irritability. Similarly, patients with Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner typically exhibit choppy (Se) or full (Shi) pulses.

We've listed below a description of the nine patterns associated with migraine 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 seven formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with migraine, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The nine "patterns of disharmony" associated with migraine

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

Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Full (Shi)

Recommended herbal formula: Tao He Cheng Qi Tang

Symptoms: Thirst Amenorrhea Night fever Irritability Dysmenorrhea Restlnessness Delirious speech Lower abdominal pain

Migraine might be due to Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as lower abdominal pain, night fever, delirious speech and irritability. Similarly, patients with Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner typically exhibit choppy (Se) or full (Shi) pulses.

Read more about Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the key herb for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

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

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Recommended herbal formulas: Er Chen Tang, Liu Jun Zi Tang, Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Wen Dan Tang, Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang, Xing Su San, Wu Ling San

Symptoms: Lumps Nausea Nodules Dizziness Chest pressure Feeling of heaviness Numbness in the limbs

Phlegm has a great importance in Chinese Medicine as it is both a condition in and of itself as well as a cause for other diseases.

The main cause for the formation of Phlegm is Spleen Deficiency since the Spleen rules the transformation and transportation of Body Fluids. If this function is impaired, Body Fluids accumulates and change into Phlegm. 

The Lungs and Kidneys may also be involved since they each play a role in handling body Fluids: the Lungs disperse and descend Body Fluids while the Kidneys transform and excrete them. Again, if they fail to perform those roles, Body Fluids will accumulate and become Phlegm.

That being said, the Spleen malfunction is the fundamental reason behind the formation of Phlegm and, as such, treatments will focus on it first and foremost.

There are two broad types of Phlegm: so-called "Substantial Phlegm" and "Non-Substantial Phlegm". Simply put, Substantial Phlegm can be seen, such as sputum in the Lungs and throat. Non-Substantial Phlegm is more hidden and will manifest itself into, for instance, kidney stones, gallstones or arthritic bone deformities.

Phlegm can further be categorized according to its nature: there is Damp-Phlegm, Phlegm-Heat, Cold-Phlegm, etc. 

Lastly, there is a type of Phlegm called "Phlegm-Fluids". It is very similar to Dampness and is very watery and thin. It can be heard splashing in the body, found usually in the Stomach, Intestines, hypochondrium, limbs or above the diaphragm.

Read more about Phlegm here

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

Spleen Deficiency with Dampness

Migraine might be due to Spleen Deficiency with Dampness if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as edema, general sensation of heaviness, diarrhea and urinary difficulty.

Read more about Spleen Deficiency with Dampness here

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

Phlegm in the Lower Burner

Migraine might be due to Phlegm in the Lower Burner if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as throbbing pulsations just below the umbilicus, vomiting frothy saliva, vertigo and shortness of breath.

Read more about Phlegm in the Lower Burner 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

Migraine 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

Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Minute (Wei), Slow (Chi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Recommended herbal formula: Fu Zi Tang

Symptoms: No thirst Cold extremities Generalized body pain Aching bones and joints Aversion to cold (especially at the back)

Migraine might be due to Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as generalized body pain, aching bones and joints, cold extremities and no thirst. Similarly, patients with Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp typically exhibit choppy (Se), deep (Chen), minute (Wei) or slow (Chi) pulses as well as a tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp here

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

Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Tight (Jin)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Pale

Recommended herbal formula: Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Symptoms: Coughing Dizziness Headaches Depression Moving pain Listlessness Hypochondrium fullness

Migraine might be due to Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as coughing, hypochondrium fullness, dizziness and headaches. Similarly, patients with Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation typically exhibit empty (Xu) or tight (Jin) pulses as well as a normal (light red), pale tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation here

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

Pericardium Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Knotted (Jie), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

Recommended herbal formula: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Symptoms: Chest pain Purple lips Palpitations Purple nails Painful period Hypochondriac pain Shortness of breath Dark clots in menstrual blood Feeling of oppression of the chest

Migraine might be due to Pericardium Blood Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as chest pain, hypochondriac pain, palpitations and painful period. Similarly, patients with Pericardium Blood Stagnation typically exhibit knotted (Jie) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a bluish-purple tongue.

Read more about Pericardium Blood Stagnation here

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

Stomach Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

Recommended herbal formula: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Symptoms: Nausea Vomiting Epigastric pain Vomiting of blood

Migraine might be due to Stomach Blood Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting and vomiting of blood. Similarly, patients with Stomach Blood Stagnation typically exhibit wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a bluish-purple tongue.

Read more about Stomach Blood Stagnation here

The seven herbal formulas that might help with migraine

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with migraine?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Phlegm, Spleen Deficiency with Dampness and Phlegm in the Lower Burner which are sometimes associated with migraine. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wu Ling San here

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with migraine?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Pericardium Blood Stagnation and Stomach Blood Stagnation which are sometimes associated with migraine. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Tao He Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dispels Heat and. Eliminates Blood Stagnation.

Why might Tao He Cheng Qi Tang help with migraine?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner, a pattern sometimes associated with migraine. If it looks like you might suffer from Heat and Blood Stagnation in the Lower Burner, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Tao He Cheng Qi 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 migraine?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation, a pattern sometimes associated with migraine. 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

Fu Zi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Meridians. Assists the Yang. Dispels Cold. Transforms Dampness.

Why might Fu Zi Tang help with migraine?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp, a pattern sometimes associated with migraine. If it looks like you might suffer from Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Fu Zi Tang here

Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer). Regulates the Liver and Spleen functions. Addresses combined Yin-Yang symptoms of External and Internal, Excess and Deficiency, and Hot and Cold.

Why might Xiao Chai Hu Tang help with migraine?

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

Read more about Xiao Chai Hu Tang here

Xiao Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach). Tonifies Qi. Relieves spasmodic pain.

Why might Xiao Jian Zhong Tang help with migraine?

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

Read more about Xiao Jian Zhong Tang here