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Tongue Diagnosis

A Diagnostic Tool in Traditional Chinese Medicine

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In traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners believe the appearance of the tongue can reveal a lot about a person's health. Tongue diagnosis is an important part of the Chinese medical assessment. During an examination, the practitioner usually looks at the overall tongue coating, shape, and color. Then he or she looks at specific areas on the tongue.

Different areas of the tongue are believed to reflect the health of the different organ systems. If there is an unusual color, coating, and/or shape in a certain area, special attention is paid to the corresponding organ system.

Tongue diagnosis can also be used to confirm a diagnosis. As with any assessment method, the doctor doesn't rely on tongue diagnosis alone, but uses it to provide a complete picture of a person's health.

Below are some of the guidelines Chinese medical practitioners use to assess the tongue. This is only a selection of many different types of patterns.

What is the Tongue Color?

The tongue color is normally a light red color, indicating that a person's vital energy (qi) is strong. It also reflects the health of the internal organs and blood circulation. Changes in the tongue color usually reflect chronic illness.

Tongue Body Color:

1) Pale
Excess cold, especially if there is a thick white coating.
Spleen qi deficiency, especially if thin white coating
Blood deficiency, especially if dull, pale face and lips

2) Red
Excess heat, especially if there is a thick yellow tongue coating.
Yin deficiency, especially if tongue body is thin and coating is thin, absent or peeled.

3) Purple
Stagnant qi
Stagnant blood if dark purple tongue body and/or red spots on the tongue

What is the Tongue Shape?

The tongue shape is normally not too thick or thin, and the tongue body is smooth with no cracks. Changes in the tongue shape usually reflect chronic illness involving blood, qi, or body fluids.

1) Swollen or Puffy
Spleen qi deficiency, especially if teeth marks on the sides
Damp heat

2) Thin
Blood deficiency
Fluid deficiency

3) Trembling
Spleen qi deficiency

4) Elongated
Heart heat

5) Sides Curled Up
Liver qi stagnation
If the sides are swollen and red, it may indicate Liver Fire

6) Cracks
Excess heat or yin deficiency
Heart imbalance, especially if there is a crack down the middle of the tongue to the tip

What Does The Tongue Coating Look Like?

The tongue coating is normally thin and white. A pale yellow and slightly thicker coating at the back of the tongue may also be normal. The tongue coating often indicates the health of the spleen and stomach. It also provides a good indication of acute illness, such as colds and digestive problems.

1) Thick

2) Yellow, thick, glossy
Damp Heat

3) Dry, yellow
Excess heat

4) Peeled or absent
Deficient yin
Heart yin deficiency if it's on the tip of the tongue
Kidney yin deficiency if it's all over the tongue or at the back of the tongue and the tongue body is red.

Are there any Specific Problem Areas?

Each area connected to specific internal organs. For example, a thick yellow coating at back of tongue may be a sign of damp heat in intestines, bladder or uterus.


Other Tongue Tips

  • Some disorders don't show up on the tongue.
  • Tongue is usually examined for no longer than 15 seconds at a time. If it's extended for longer, the tension may alter the shape or color.
  • The tongue should be examined under natural light.
  • Before examination, don't eat foods that may discolor the tongue, such as coffee, beets, vitamin C, and foods made with artificial food coloring.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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