Hiccups according to Chinese Medicine

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Hiccups 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 hiccups 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 hiccups is often associated with vomiting, belching and nausea in the pattern “Rebellious Qi”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause hiccups.

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

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause hiccups

In Chinese Medicine hiccups is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for Rebellious Qi

Rebellious Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red sides

Rebellious Qi is when Qi flows in the wrong direction. For instance, if one suffers from a rebellious Stomach Qi (a common case), the normal downward flow of Stomach Qi is disrupted and it goes upward instead. This may result in nausea, vomiting, belching or hiccupping.

In addition to hiccups, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Qi include vomiting, belching and nausea.

Rebellious Qi is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Qi here

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

Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to hiccups, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach include belching, irritability and epigastric distension.

Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach here

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

Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

When Liver Qi does not flow smoothly or regularly, it becomes Stagnant and in Excess. This leads to Heat accumulating in the Liver. The feeling of ‘Distension’ (zhang 胀) is the main symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation.

In addition to hiccups, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation include vomiting, belching and irritability.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Mastitis or Breast Engorgement.

Liver Qi 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 Liver Qi Stagnation here

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

Stomach Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

In addition to hiccups, other symptoms associated with Stomach Qi Stagnation include vomiting, belching and irritability.

Stomach Qi Stagnation 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 Stomach Qi Stagnation here

Four herbal formulas that might help with hiccups

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi. Expectorant, treats hiccups.

Why might Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang help with hiccups?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Qi' of which hiccups is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Qi include vomiting, belching and nausea.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang here

Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang

Source date: Essentials from the Golden Cabinet

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Directs rebellious Qi downward. Stops hiccup. Augments Qi. Clears heat.

Why might Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang help with hiccups?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach' of which hiccups is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Liver Qi Invading The Stomach include belching, irritability and epigastric distension.

Read more about Ju Pi Zhu Ru 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 hiccups?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation' of which hiccups is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Qi Stagnation include vomiting, belching and irritability.

Read more about Xiao Yao 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 hiccups?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Qi Stagnation' of which hiccups is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Qi Stagnation include vomiting, belching and irritability.

Read more about Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for hiccups

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat hiccups

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with hiccups?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang or Ju Pi Zhu Ru 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 Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with hiccups?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang or Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with hiccups?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Jia Wei Xiao Yao San for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

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

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang or Xiao Yao 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 hiccups?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang or Ju Pi Zhu Ru 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