Palpitations according to Chinese Medicine

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Palpitations 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 palpitations 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 palpitations is often associated with insomnia, dizziness and scanty periods in the pattern “Blood Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause palpitations.

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

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause palpitations

In Chinese Medicine palpitations 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.

Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang) is the king ingredient for Si Wu Tang, a formula used for Blood Deficiency

Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

Someone has a Deficiency of Blood when their entire body, a part of body or a particular Organ is insufficiently nourished by Blood. This can be caused by blood-loss, a lack of of Spleen Qi (responsible to produce Blood) or congealed Blood which prevents new Blood from forming.

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Blood Deficiency include insomnia, dizziness and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Blood Deficiency is often treated with Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Si Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Restores and nourishes Blood".

Read more about Blood Deficiency here

Ginseng (Ren Shen) is the king ingredient for Si Jun Zi Tang, a formula used for Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Qi Deficiency simply means lack of Qi. It includes the lack of Original Qi, Nutritive Qi, Defensive Qi or the Qi that resides in Organs or Channels. It mainly manifests itself in a weakened function of Organs and a declining ability of the body to resist diseases.

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Qi Deficiency include dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

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 Qi Deficiency here

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

Heart Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Thin

Heart Blood Deficiency hurts the Mind (神 Shen) and it causes insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, anxiety, poor memory, dizziness and tendency to be scared. It can be caused by Deficient Spleen Qi that fails to produce Blood, long-term anxiety and worry, a severe blood loss and excessive workload.

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Heart Blood Deficiency include insomnia, dizziness and restlessness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Heart Blood Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Postpartum Depression.

Heart Blood Deficiency is often treated with Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Si Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Restores and nourishes Blood".

Read more about Heart Blood Deficiency here

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

Heart Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Knotted (Jie), Weak (Ruo)

This pattern has similar symptoms to Heart Qi Deficiency, though they are usually more severe and include symptoms of Coldness. It is from similar causes as Heart Qi Deficiency, or can be from a Deficiency of Kidney Yang since that is the body's source of Yang.

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Heart Yang Deficiency include fatigue, feeling of cold and spontaneous sweating.

Heart Yang Deficiency is often treated with Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Cinnamon Bark - Rou Gui - as a key herb). Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify yin and yang", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang".

Read more about Heart Yang Deficiency here

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

Heart Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

This pattern includes general Qi Deficiency signs along with Heart symptoms. It is often caused by blood-loss or excessive emotions, particularly sadness.

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Heart Qi Deficiency include fatigue, pale face and spontaneous sweating.

Heart Qi Deficiency is often treated with Bao Yuan Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bao Yuan 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 the Qi and warms the Yang".

Read more about Heart Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with palpitations

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with palpitations?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Deficiency' of which palpitations is a symptom.

Read more about Gui Pi 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 palpitations?

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

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Shen Qi Si Wu Tang

Source date: 846 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Restores and nourishes Blood. Stimulates Blood circulation. Tonifies Qi.

Why might Shen Qi Si Wu Tang help with palpitations?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heart Blood Deficiency' of which palpitations is a symptom.

Read more about Shen Qi Si Wu Tang here

Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang. Harmonizes Heart and Kidney. Stabilizes and secures Essence.

Why might Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang help with palpitations?

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

Read more about Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang here

Bao Yuan Tang

Source date: 1624

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies the Qi and warms the Yang.

Why might Bao Yuan Tang help with palpitations?

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

Read more about Bao Yuan Tang here

Acupuncture points used for palpitations

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat palpitations

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with palpitations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat palpitations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat palpitations as a symptom (such as Ju Yuan Jian for instance).

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

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 Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with palpitations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat palpitations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat palpitations as a symptom (such as Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang for instance).

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

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 Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with palpitations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat palpitations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat palpitations as a symptom (such as Si Jun Zi Tang for instance).

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

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 palpitations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat palpitations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat palpitations as a symptom (such as Si Jun Zi 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 Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with palpitations?

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

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here