The appearance, colour and condition of your tongue say a lot about the state of your health.

Sickness is caused by the imbalance of qi () and blood (), as well as yin () and yang (阳) in the body.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), four unique techniques are used to diagnose and treat the underlying problems of a sickness.

These four methods to diagnose an illness are: Making observations (), listening to breathing (), asking about the individual’s symptoms (), and taking the pulse ().

In TCM, observing the condition of the tongue is one of the most important techniques the physician uses when they examine their patient. This is because in TCM, the tongue is connected to all the zang () and fu () in our body via meridians (经络).

Studying the tongue, therefore, provides invaluable information on someone’s health and if their body is balanced. The diagram below shows how the different areas of the tongue maps to or are connected to our respective zang () and fu ():

The TCM physician uses three basic tongue observations to analyse an individual’s health conditions:

1. The colour of the tongue

* Red tongue Excessive heat in the body. Common symptoms include inflammation, fever and migraine.

* Pale tongue The body is cold. Common symptoms include body weakness, fatigue and anaemia.

* Purple or dark tongue Blood stasis or poor blood circulation in the body. Body aches are a common symptom.

“In TCM, observing the condition of the tongue is one of the most important techniques the physician uses when they examine their patient.”

2. The shape and the size of the tongue

* Swollen tongue A swollen tongue with teeth marks indicates dampness and spleen deficiency. It is a common symptom of stomach problems.

* Small or thin tongue This indicates the deficiency of qi () and blood (). Common symptoms are dizziness and fatigue.

3. The coating on the tongue

* Thick white coating This indicates dampness-cold phlegm.

* Thick yellow coating This indicates dampness-heat phlegm.

* No coating This indicates the deficiency of yin (). One may experience night sweats.

The tongue can show various combinations of mapping, colour, shape and coating. For example, a tongue may be pale in colour with a thick white coating in the middle.

Based on the location of this white coating, the tongue map shows that the problem is related to the stomach. It is likely that the patient suffers from dampness-cold or a yang () deficiency in their digestive system.

In order for your TCM physician to get the best tongue diagnosis, do take note of the following before your tongue inspection:

1. Do not remove the coating on the tongue when you brush your teeth in the morning.

2. Avoid taking sweets, as well as coffee and tea before the tongue inspection.

3. When your TCM physician is inspecting your tongue, do not stick it out for more than 10 seconds, so as to avoid changing its colour.

Ho Wee Kok practises at Thomson Chinese Medicine.

This article first appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Thomson Medical’s Celebrating Life magazine.

Pix: iStock

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