The mouth offers a plethora of diagnostic information for the Chinese medical doctor. These indications are always a part of a larger diagnostic picture and are rarely definitive as stand-alone indications of a specific imbalance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis is based on patterns of imbalances where a multitude of symptoms or indications point to a disease pattern; one disease may have a hundred different patterns of imbalance.

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These are some of the commonly observed diagnostic indications with possible correlations:

Lips and Chinese Medicine

Tongue Diagnosis and Chinese Medicine

Observing the tongue is one of the major diagnostic tools of TCM and there are hundreds of possible indications. The coating of the tongue would be observed separately from the actual body of the tongue. It is sometimes difficult to actually see the color of the body of the tongue if there is a thick coating on the tongue.

Possible Indications of the Tongue Coat:

  • Wet coat-Dampness, Spleen Deficiency
  • Dry coat-Yin Deficiency, Heat, Internal Dryness
  • White Coat-Cold
  • Yellow Coat-Heat

As imbalances evolve and worsen you may see the different indications that are more complicated such as with unresolved Dampness that has been coagulated by Heat resulting in Damp-Heat and a tongue with a thick, sticky, yellow coat. This is only one pattern of many, but it demonstrates how valuable the observation of the tongue coat can be.

A Few Possible Indications of the Body of the Tongue:

Color of the Tongue

  • Red tongue-Heat
  • Purple tongue-Cold and/or Blood Stagnation
  • Pale tongue-Blood Deficiency

A deep ridge down the center of the tongue-damage to the Stomach/Spleen energetic systems

Different areas of the tongue are designated to different organ systems. An example: the tip of the tongue relates to the Heart, and a red tip on the tongue could indicate Heart Heat with possible symptoms of sleep problems or insomnia.

Spots on the Tongue

Raised red spots often indicate an active infection internally that the body is fighting such as a viral or bacterial infection. Small faded white spots may indicate an unresolved latent pathogen lurking internally explained here.

Swelling of the Tongue

If the tongue is swollen from side to side it will develop teeth marks along the edges; this is an indication of Spleen Qi Deficiency as the Spleen plays an important role in TCM by insuring the correct distribution of fluids in the body. If the tongue is swollen up and down and looks larger than normal it is an indication of Kidney Deficiency as the Kidneys are central to water metabolism in the body.

Burning of the Tongue

A sensation of a burning tongue is often an indication of Heart Fire with symptoms of emotional imbalances and/or sleep disturbances.

A Short Tongue

If someone is unable to stick their tongue out it is a possible indication of Wind-Stroke and one would be concerned about a history of stroke, possibly a small stroke that went undetected, or the possibility of an impending stroke. While not a definitive diagnosis, it would certainly be prudent to insure that blood pressure levels were kept in check if a short tongue is presenting.

Crooked Tongue

If a tongue does not stick straight out and wants to turn to one side when trying to stick out the tongue, it may be an indication of Internal-Wind explained here.

Whole books are dedicated to tongue diagnosis in Chinese medicine and it is an important diagnostic tool. Hopefully, these few insights will help you better understand how tongue diagnosis helps to build a larger diagnostic picture, and possibly a few insights in to your own health.