TCM & Disease

If the body is healthy (in harmony or balance), it is able to resist pathogens (agents that produce disease). Qi is responsible for keeping the body in balance. Disharmony or imbalance can be caused externally by weather changes or internally by excessive emotion.

External Causes of Disease

Because in Chinese medicine philosophy everything in the universe is interconnected, it follows that changes in the universe, such as weather, would impact humans. Changes in weather are characterized by six external energies that can cause disharmony in the body. They are known as the Six Pathogenic Factors or Six Pernicious Influences. The following is a brief description of each.

  • Wind is a Yang pathogenic factor and causes symptoms that wander and change.
  • Cold is a Yin pathogenic factor and causes sudden onset of symptoms of chilliness, headache, and body aches. Cold can damage Yang energy.
  • Damp is a Yin pathogenic factor that causes sluggishness, lethargy, sticky discharges.
  • Heat is a Yang pathogenic factor. Heat and Fire are usually interchangeable terms. Heat symptoms include fever, inflammation, constipation, and dry skin.
  • Summer Heat is a Yang pathogenic factor. It depletes Qi and Body Fluids, which can cause dehydration and exhaustion.
  • Dryness is a Yang pathogenic factor. Dryness is closely related to Fire/Heat but involves more drying of bodily fluids. Symptoms include dry eyes, dry nose, dry mouth, dry cough.

Internal Causes of Disease

There are seven emotions that are internal causes for disharmony. Emotions cause illness when they are not balanced. Too much anger is as unbalanced as too much joy, but each will manifest different physical symptoms. The seven emotions are as follows.

  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Pensiveness
  • Fear
  • Fright

Miscellaneous Causes of Disease

There are several other factors that can contribute to disharmony.

  • Constitutional Factors—This pertains to a person's genetic makeup, both physical and energetic.
  • Exercise—The right amount and kind of exercise is important in maintaining health. Qi Gong is a recommended form of exercise.
  • Diet—This factor cannot be overemphasized. A balanced diet is very important and required to maintain health.

Imbalance

Health is maintained when interactions between Vital Substances, Zang Fu Organs, and Meridians are in harmony and all bodily functions are working well. If interactions are disrupted or a dysfunction occurs, imbalance occurs and disease results.

There are many different causes of imbalance. Zang Fu Organs, Vital Substances, Meridians, and Yin and Yang may be deficient or excessive. Vital Substances may flow too freely or be stagnant or blocked. Qi may flow in the wrong direction. Blood may flow outside its normal pathways. Factors such as poor diet, trauma, improper rest and work, and too much sexual activity can contribute to imbalance. Emotional factors contribute to disharmony as well.

Pattern of Disharmony

When a disorder exists, a Pattern of Disharmony has occurred in the body. There are numerous Patterns of Disharmony. They are named according to the Organs, Meridians, or Substances affected or what Pathogenic Factor is involved. These terms characterize the Chinese medicine understanding of the disease process. A few examples are:

  • Heart Blood Deficiency means that the Blood is deficient and is not nourishing the Heart and its associated structures.
  • Wind-cold Attack reveals that the external Pathogenic Factor of Wind and Cold are attacking the body and causing Disharmony.
  • Liver Yang Rising indicates that there is a Yin-Yang imbalance in the Liver. The Liver Yin is insufficient to balance the Liver Yang.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2011