Difficulty swallowing according to Chinese Medicine

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Difficulty swallowing 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 difficulty swallowing 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 difficulty swallowing is often associated with vomiting, nausea and belching in the pattern “Stomach Qi rebelling upwards”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause difficulty swallowing.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of difficulty swallowing we’ve identified four 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 difficulty swallowing.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause difficulty swallowing

In Chinese Medicine difficulty swallowing 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.

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

Stomach Qi rebelling upwards

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to difficulty swallowing, other symptoms associated with Stomach Qi rebelling upwards include vomiting, nausea and belching.

Stomach Qi rebelling upwards is often treated with Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Cloves - Ding Xiang - as a key herb). Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Augments the Qi".

Read more about Stomach Qi rebelling upwards here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient 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

Also often called "plum-stone" or "plum-pit" syndrome, the main characteristic of Qi-Phlegm is a feeling of swelling in the throat and a swallowing difficulty. It typically originates from emotional problems and it appears and disappears according to mood swings.

In addition to difficulty swallowing, other symptoms associated with Qi-Phlegm include stuffiness of chest and diaphragm, dry cough and irritability.

Qi-Phlegm is often treated with Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that promote qi movement", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the flow of Qi, treats esophageal spasm".

Read more about Qi-Phlegm here

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 difficulty swallowing, other symptoms associated with Heat in the Blood include irritability, abdominal pain and dizziness.

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

Four herbal formulas that might help with difficulty swallowing

Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Releases the Exterior. Transforms Dampness. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Middle Burner.

Why might Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Qi rebelling upwards' of which difficulty swallowing is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Qi Rebelling Upwards include vomiting, nausea and belching.

Read more about Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San 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 difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi-Phlegm' of which difficulty swallowing is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi-Phlegm include stuffiness of chest and diaphragm, dry cough and irritability.

Read more about Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang here

Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system. Removes Blood Stagnation.

Why might Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang help with difficulty swallowing?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat In The Blood include irritability, abdominal pain and dizziness.

Read more about Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang here

Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang

Source date: 1706 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Augments the Qi. Warms the Middle Burner. Directs Rebellious Qi downward. Stops hiccup.

Why might Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Qi rebelling upwards' of which difficulty swallowing is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Qi Rebelling Upwards include vomiting, nausea and belching.

Read more about Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat difficulty swallowing

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as a symptom, like Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang or Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as a symptom, like Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang or Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang for instance.

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

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 Perilla Leaf (Zi Su Ye) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because Perilla Leaf is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as a symptom, like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San or Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang for instance.

Perilla Leaves is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Promotes the circulation of Spleen and Stomach Qi. Calms a restless fetus. Detoxifies seafood poisoning

Read more about Perilla Leaves here

Why might Houpu Magnolia Bark (Hou Pu) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because Houpu Magnolia Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as a symptom, like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San or Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang for instance.

Houpu Magnolia Bark is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Moves Rebellious Qi downward, dries Dampness and relieves Food Stagnation. Transforms Phlegm and redirects Rebellious Qi of the Lung.

Read more about Houpu Magnolia Bark here

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because Crow-Dipper Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as a symptom, like Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang or Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San for instance.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here