Shortness of breath according to Chinese Medicine

Home > Symptoms list > Shortness of breath

dyspnea and shortness of breath on exertion redirect here

Shortness of breath 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 shortness of breath 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 shortness of breath is often associated with dizziness, palpitations and coughing in the pattern “Qi Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause shortness of breath.

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

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause shortness of breath

In Chinese Medicine shortness of breath 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 shortness of breath, other symptoms associated with Qi Deficiency include dizziness, palpitations and coughing.

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 shortness of breath, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include dizziness, palpitations and fatigue.

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

Kansui Roots (Gan Sui) is the king ingredient for Shi Zao Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium

Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

This is when Phlegm-Fluids clogs up the chest and hypochondriac regions, producing chest pain, cough and shortness of breath.

In addition to shortness of breath, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium include palpitations and coughing.

Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium is often treated with Shi Zao Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Kansui Roots - Gan Sui - as a key herb). Shi Zao Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that drive out excess water", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Purges and drives out Phlegm-Fluids".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium here

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

Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Weak (Ruo), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to shortness of breath, other symptoms associated with Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency include loose stools, frequent urination and pale complexion.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Lupus.

Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency 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 Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency here

Dong Quai (Dang Gui) is the king ingredient for Sheng Yu Tang, a formula used for Blood and Qi Deficiency

Blood and Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

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

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood and Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Menstrual Cramps or Absence Of Menstruation.

Blood and Qi Deficiency is often treated with Sheng Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Sheng Yu 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: "Tonifies Qi and Blood".

Read more about Blood and Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with shortness of breath

Ju Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Why might Ju Yuan Jian help with shortness of breath?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Heavy Menstruation.

Read more about Ju Yuan Jian here

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Why might Liu Jun Zi Tang help with shortness of breath?

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

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

Read more about Liu Jun Zi 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 shortness of breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium' of which shortness of breath is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids In The Hypochondrium include palpitations and coughing.

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 shortness of breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency' of which shortness of breath is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Lupus.

Read more about Wu Ling San here

Sheng Yu Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Preserves the Blood.

Why might Sheng Yu Tang help with shortness of breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood and Qi Deficiency' of which shortness of breath is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood and Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Sheng Yu Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat shortness of breath

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with shortness of breath?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shortness of breath as a symptom, like Ju Yuan Jian or Bao Yuan 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 Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with shortness of breath?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shortness of breath as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu 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 Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with shortness of breath?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shortness of breath as a symptom, like Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang or Wu Ling San 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 shortness of breath?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shortness of breath as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi 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 Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with shortness of breath?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shortness of breath as a symptom, like Xiong Gui Er Chen Tang or Sheng Yu Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here