Hiccups according to Chinese Medicine

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 retching in the pattern “Stomach Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record two 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 three 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 two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause hiccups

In Chinese Medicine hiccups is a symptom for 2 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 Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Stomach Yin Deficiency causes Dryness and Heat, which harms the Organ's ability of receiving and ripening foods and drinks. It is the result of prolonged unbalanced diet and irregular eating habits.

In addition to hiccups, other symptoms associated with Stomach Yin Deficiency include retching.

Stomach Yin Deficiency is often treated with Mai Men Dong Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dwarf Lilyturf Roots - Mai Dong - as a key herb). Mai Men Dong Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes the Stomach".

Read more about Stomach Yin Deficiency here

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, asthma and diarrhea.

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

Three herbal formulas that might help with hiccups

Mai Men Dong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Stomach. Generates Body Fluids. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Mai Men Dong Tang help with hiccups?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Yin Deficiency include retching.

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang here

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, asthma and diarrhea.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang here

Yi Wei Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Strengthen the Stomach. Creates Body Fluids.

Why might Yi Wei Tang help with hiccups?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Yin Deficiency include retching.

Read more about Yi Wei Tang here

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 Mai Men Dong Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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 Dwarf Lilyturf Root (Mai Dong) help with hiccups?

Because Dwarf Lilyturf Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Mai Men Dong Tang or Yi Wei Tang for instance.

Dwarf Lilyturf Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Replenishes Yin Essence and promotes secretions. Lubricates and nourishes the Stomach. Soothes the Lung. Nourishes the Heart.

Read more about Dwarf Lilyturf Roots here

Why might Jujube Date (Da Zao) help with hiccups?

Because Jujube Date is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Mai Men Dong Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance.

Jujube Dates is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula.

Read more about Jujube Dates 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 Mai Men Dong Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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 Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with hiccups?

Because Crow-Dipper Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang or Mai Men Dong Tang 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