Abdominal bloating according to Chinese Medicine

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Abdominal bloating can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like abdominal bloating here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here abdominal bloating is often associated with dizziness, abdominal pain and night sweats in the pattern “Heat in the Blood”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause abdominal bloating.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of abdominal bloating we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat abdominal bloating.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause abdominal bloating

In Chinese Medicine abdominal bloating is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Water Buffalo Horns (Shui Niu Jiao) is the king ingredient for Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a formula used for Heat in the Blood

Heat in the Blood

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu)

Tongue color: Red

Heat in the Blood (or Blood-Heat) refers to a condition whereby Heat, as a so-called "Pernicious Influence", entered the Blood. This invasion tends to accelerate Blood flow (leading to a faster pulse) and to manifest itself in various types of bleeding as well as other symptoms.

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Heat in the Blood include dizziness, abdominal pain and night sweats.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Heat in the Blood is associated with health issues such as Early Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Heat in the Blood is often treated with Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Water Buffalo Horns - Shui Niu Jiao - as a key herb). Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear nutritive-level heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system".

Read more about Heat in the Blood here

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

Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine

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

Tongue coating: Sticky coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

When the transportative and transformative functions of the Middle-Burner are damaged (often by Cold), Phlegm-Fluids accumulate in the Stomach and epigastric area. This leads to the symptoms such as the vomiting of watery fluids or splashing sounds in the stomach.

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine include loose stools, feeling of fullness in the chest and vomiting of watery fluids.

Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine is often treated with Xiao Chai Hu Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Chai Hu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize lesser yang-warp disorders", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer)".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine here

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Blood Stagnation

Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian), Firm (Lao)

Tongue color: Reddish-Purple

Blood Stagnation, like the name indicates, is when Blood flow becomes Stagnant. It can happen in the whole body or in specific Organs.

It is one of the most important diagnostic conditions in Chinese Medicine because it is frequently the cause of intractable pain syndromes anywhere in the body.

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Blood Stagnation include abdominal pain, scanty periods and restlessness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Scanty Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Blood Stagnation is often treated with Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Tao He Cheng Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dispels Heat and".

Read more about Blood Stagnation here

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Wen Jing Tang, a formula used for Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Soggy (Ru)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

There are two types of cold patterns: Full Cold or Empty Cold. Full cold refers to actual Cold Evil invading the Uterus and Dampness Stagnation often come along with this Full pattern. Empty cold is the result of Yang Deficiency, especially the Spleen and Kidney Yang.

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Cold in the Uterus include abdominal pain, scanty periods and sore back.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Cold in the Uterus is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Late Menstruation.

Cold in the Uterus is often treated with Wen Jing Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Wen Jing Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Uterus and vessels".

Read more about Cold in the Uterus here

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi and Blood Stagnation

Qi and Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red, Red sides

In addition to abdominal bloating, other symptoms associated with Qi and Blood Stagnation include dizziness, abdominal pain and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi and Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi and Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi and Blood Stagnation here

Five herbal formulas that might help with abdominal bloating

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Source date: Ming dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver and Spleen Qi Stagnation. Tonifies Spleen. Clears Deficient Heat. Nourishes the blood.

Why might Jia Wei Xiao Yao San help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat in the Blood' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Heat in the Blood can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Read more about Jia Wei Xiao Yao San 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 abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids In The Stomach And Small Intestine include loose stools, feeling of fullness in the chest and vomiting of watery fluids.

Read more about Xiao Chai Hu Tang here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi and Blood Stagnation' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi and Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Tao Hong Si Wu Tang

Source date: 1291 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Blood and regulates the Liver. Moves Qi and Blood in the lower abdomen. Stops pain.

Why might Tao Hong Si Wu Tang help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Stagnation' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Scanty Menstruation.

Read more about Tao Hong Si Wu Tang here

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

Why might Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with abdominal bloating?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold in the Uterus' of which abdominal bloating is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Cold in the Uterus can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat abdominal bloating

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Jia Wei Xiao Yao San or Xiao Chai Hu Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Tao Hong Si Wu Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang or Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Mudan Peony Bark (Mu Dan Pi) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Mudan Peony Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang or Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan for instance.

Mudan Peony Bark is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Cools the Blood, activates Blood circulation and resolves Blood stasis.

Read more about Mudan Peony Bark here

Why might Bupleurum Root (Chai Hu) help with abdominal bloating?

Because Bupleurum Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat abdominal bloating as a symptom, like Xiao Chai Hu Tang or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Bupleurum Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Read more about Bupleurum Roots here