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 dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath in the pattern “Qi 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.

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

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 palpitations, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include dizziness, fatigue and depression.

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

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

Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water overflowing

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water overflowing include coughing, feeling of cold and cold hands.

Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water overflowing is often treated with Wu Ling San, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Water Plantain - Ze Xie - as a key herb). Wu Ling San belongs to the category of "formulas that promote urination and leach out dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Promotes urination,".

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water overflowing here

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

Lung and Heart Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

In addition to palpitations, other symptoms associated with Lung and Heart Qi Deficiency include depression, shortness of breath and coughing.

Lung and Heart 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 Lung and Heart Qi Deficiency here

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 depression.

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

Five herbal formulas that might help with palpitations

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 palpitations?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

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 palpitations?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Late Menstruation.

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 palpitations?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water overflowing' of which palpitations is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Yang Deficiency With Water Overflowing include coughing, feeling of cold and cold hands.

Read more about Wu Ling San 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 'Lung and Heart Qi Deficiency' of which palpitations is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lung And Heart Qi Deficiency include depression, shortness of breath and coughing.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Da Bu Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Yin and Blood. Nourishes Qi and Yang.

Why might Da Bu Yuan Jian help with palpitations?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Late Menstruation.

Read more about Da Bu Yuan Jian here

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 Bu Zhong Yi Qi 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 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 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 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 Bu Zhong Yi Qi 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 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 Bu Zhong Yi Qi 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 Da Bu Yuan Jian 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