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 epigastric pain and retching in the pattern “Stomach Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five 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 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 hiccups.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause hiccups

In Chinese Medicine hiccups 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.

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 epigastric pain and 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

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, epigastric distension and irritability.

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

Rebellious Liver Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

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

Rebellious Liver Qi is often treated with Chai Hu Shu Gan San, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Chai Hu Shu Gan San 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: "Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood".

Read more about Rebellious Liver Qi 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, belching and asthma.

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 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 epigastric distension.

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

Five 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 epigastric pain and retching.

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang here

Si Mo Tang

Source date: 1253 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Directs rebellious Qi downward. Expands the chest and dissipates clumping.

Why might Si Mo 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, epigastric distension and irritability.

Read more about Si Mo Tang here

Si Ni San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Regulates Liver and Spleen. Eliminates Internal Heat.

Why might Si Ni San help with hiccups?

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

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

Read more about Si Ni San 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, belching and asthma.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang 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 epigastric distension.

Read more about Ban Xia Hou Pu 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 Si Ni San 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 Mai Men Dong Tang or Si Mo 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 Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with hiccups?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat hiccups as a symptom, like Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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 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 Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang or Xuan Fu Dai Zhe 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

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 Ju Pi Zhu Ru 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