Oedema according to Chinese Medicine

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Oedema 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 oedema 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 oedema is often associated with dizziness, fatigue and poor appetite in the pattern “Phlegm”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause oedema.

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

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause oedema

In Chinese Medicine oedema 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.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

In addition to oedema, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include dizziness, fatigue and poor appetite.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids

Phlegm-Fluids

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

In addition to oedema, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids include coughing, chest fullness and shortness of breath.

Phlegm-Fluids is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids 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 oedema, other symptoms associated with Spleen Yang Deficiency include fatigue, 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

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

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Qi Deficiency is one of the most commonly seen TCM pattern. It is caused by unhealthy diet such as fat raw or cold food, bad eating habit, emotional stress or damp environment. It is the central pattern to all other Spleen disharmonies, because many other Deficiency patterns derive from it.

In addition to oedema, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency include fatigue, poor appetite and loose stools.

Spleen Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Spleen Qi Deficiency here

Coco-Grass Rhizomes (Xiang Fu) is the king ingredient for Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan, a formula used for Phlegm in the Uterus

Phlegm in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua)

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

In addition to oedema, other symptoms associated with Phlegm in the Uterus include fatigue, chest fullness and nausea.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm in the Uterus is associated with health issues such as Absence Of Menstruation.

Phlegm in the Uterus is often treated with Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Coco-Grass Rhizomes - Xiang Fu - as a key herb). Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Resolves Dampness and Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm in the Uterus here

Five herbal formulas that might help with oedema

Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms and transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Strengthens the Spleen. Resolves Dampness.

Why might Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang help with oedema?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm' of which oedema is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Menopausal Syndrome.

Read more about Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang here

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with oedema?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids' of which oedema is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids include coughing, chest fullness and shortness of breath.

Read more about Wu Ling San 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 oedema?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Yang Deficiency include fatigue, poor appetite and loose stools.

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang here

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with oedema?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Qi Deficiency include fatigue, poor appetite and loose stools.

Read more about Si Jun Zi 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 oedema?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm in the Uterus' of which oedema is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm in the Uterus can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat oedema

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

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat oedema and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat oedema as a symptom (such as Wan Dai Tang 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 Milkvetch Root (Huang Qi) help with oedema?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat oedema and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat oedema as a symptom (such as Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance).

Milkvetch Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Wei Qi and stops perspiration. Tonifies the Spleen Qi and the Yang Qi of the Earth Element. Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Expels pus and assists in the healing of wounds. Helps to regulate water metabolism in the body and reduce edema.

Read more about Milkvetch Roots here

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

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat oedema and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat oedema as a symptom (such as Wu Ling San for instance).

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

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 Black Atractylodes Rhizome (Cang Zhu) help with oedema?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat oedema and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat oedema as a symptom (such as Ping Wei San for instance).

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

Its main actions are: Dries Damp and tonifies the Spleen. Relieves the Exterior for invasion of Wind-Cold-Damp. Relieves Wind-Damp painful obstruction. Dries Damp for either Damp-Cold or Damp-Heat when combined with the correct herbs. Clears the eyes and improves sight.

Read more about Black Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Plantain Seed (Che Qian Zi) help with oedema?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat oedema and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat oedema as a symptom (such as Yi Huang Tang for instance).

Plantain Seeds is a Cool herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney, the Liver, the Lung and the Small intestine.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and clears Heat. Stops diarrhea by expelling water through urination. Brightens the eyes, used in combination either for Deficiency or Heat. Reduces inflammation of infections. Arrests cough and expectorates Phlegm.

Read more about Plantain Seeds here