Chills according to Chinese Medicine

Chills 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 chills 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 chills is often associated with aversion to cold, fever and loose stools in the pattern “Exterior-Cold”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause chills.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of chills 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 chills.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause chills

In Chinese Medicine chills is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Ephedra (Ma Huang) is the king ingredient for Ma Huang Tang, a formula used for Exterior-Cold

Exterior-Cold

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Floating (Fu)

In addition to chills, other symptoms associated with Exterior-Cold include aversion to cold, fever and loose stools.

Exterior-Cold is often treated with Ma Huang Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Ma Huang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear wind-cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Releases exterior cold".

Read more about Exterior-Cold here

Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) is the king ingredient for Si Ni Tang, a formula used for Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to chills, other symptoms associated with Lesser Yin Cold Transformation include cold limbs, feeling of cold and diarrhea.

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation is often treated with Si Ni Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). Si Ni Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that rescue devastated yang", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Rescues devastated Yang".

Read more about Lesser Yin Cold Transformation here

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

Spleen Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Yang Deficiency often develops from Spleen Qi Deficiency, but it is more extensive and severe with additional Cold symptoms, such as cold feeling and cold limbs. The causes are similar to these of Spleen Qi Deficiency, along with surplus consumption of cold, raw foods and drinks and overexposure to cold damp environments and climates.

In addition to chills, other symptoms associated with Spleen Yang Deficiency include cold limbs, poor appetite and loose stools.

Spleen Yang Deficiency is often treated with Zhen Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). Zhen Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm and transform water and dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys".

Read more about Spleen Yang Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with chills

Ma Huang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Releases exterior cold. Treats wheezing.

Why might Ma Huang Tang help with chills?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Exterior-Cold' of which chills is a symptom.

Read more about Ma Huang Tang here

Gui Zhi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Releases pathogens from the muscle layer. Regulates the Nutritive and Protective Qi.

Why might Gui Zhi Tang help with chills?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Exterior-Cold' of which chills is a symptom.

Read more about Gui Zhi Tang here

Si Ni Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Rescues devastated Yang. Warms the Middle Burner. Stops diarrhea.

Why might Si Ni Tang help with chills?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lesser Yin Cold Transformation' of which chills is a symptom.

Read more about Si Ni Tang here

Zhen Wu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys. Eliminates Dampness.

Why might Zhen Wu Tang help with chills?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Yang Deficiency' of which chills is a symptom.

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with chills?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Yang Deficiency' of which chills is a symptom.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

Acupuncture points used for chills

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat chills

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with chills?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat chills as a symptom, like Si Ni Tang or Ma Huang Tang for instance.

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

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 Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with chills?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat chills as a symptom, like Gui Zhi Tang or Ge Gen Tang for instance.

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

Why might Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with chills?

Because Cinnamon Twig is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat chills as a symptom, like Gui Zhi Tang or Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang for instance.

Cinnamon Twigs is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Adjusts the nutritive Ying and defensive Wei Qi. Relieves the Exterior through sweating. Warms and disperses Cold. Removes obstruction of Yang. Promotes the circulation of Yang Qi in the chest. Regulates and moves blood.

Read more about Cinnamon Twigs here

Why might Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) help with chills?

Because Prepared Aconite is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat chills as a symptom, like Si Ni Tang or Zhen Wu Tang for instance.

Prepared Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang.

Read more about Prepared Aconite here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with chills?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat chills as a symptom, like Er Xian Tang or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

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

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