Heart Fire; The Fire your Heart doesn’t need!

Woman stressing on front of the computer
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Key Learning Points

  • Heart Fire TCM is difficult to spot in its early stages
  • Mental and emotional stressors can produce the Heart fireworks we’re talking about
  • If emotional tension starts it …
  • … the wrong diet aggravates it

Heart Fire is an ‘excess’ condition. That means that the sufferer is often ‘over the top’. However, he might not seem like that when you first meet him (or her –  women get this too!)  

This is because the Fire doesn’t flare up all the time, so the individual’s demeanour and appearance may need your careful attention for a while before you begin to suspect it.

For some people, romantic tension can produce this condition, but more commonly it comes from other kinds of tension, see below.

Bit of technical stuff! There is some similarity to Heart Yin deficiency with Empty Heat. It is important to carefully distinguish Heart Fire from Empty Heat in the Heart, because they require absolutely different treatments: the wrong treatment could, theoretically, make the patient worse.

For more on that, read Yin deficiency.

Causes of Heart Fire

If you’re new to this website, some of the terms used will seem a bit strange. Usually, by reading the linked page (which should be in red) what we’re talking about will make more sense. These descriptive words, like ‘Heart Fire’, ‘Liver Qi stagnation‘, ‘Liver Fire‘, are syndromes in Chinese medicine.

These syndromes are the names given to disease conditions as defined by Chinese medicine. They are a kind of short-hand which, when you start to get to grips with the different terms used, make immediate sense, unlike the sometimes very clinical – often Latin-based – terms used in Western Medicine.

On this page, you’ll read how Fire – a word used to describe a condition – in the wrong place or in excess can disrupt health. 

The advantage of Chinese medicine is that it sees a link from the earliest stage of this Fire right through to serious disease. That doesn’t mean everyone with a bit too much Fire will get sick – not at all!

A little Fire is exciting!

In fact, for many, a bit of  Fire in the right place is exciting, invigorating and ‘heady’. But of course, for some people it goes too far and they don’t recover from it properly. For example, too much hysterical giggling can lead to this, making it hard to come down to earth again. Then you may get trouble.


Woman with tense expression
© Abdone from Dreamstime Stock Photos


1/ The Heart ‘Fire’ arises here not from external factors but from internal energies not flowing smoothly. Liver Qi stagnation over a long period builds up frictional tension from which the heat rises up and enters the Heart. See below for what these terms mean.

2/ Heart Fire can also build up when Liver Fire continues over a long time. Liver Fire arises mainly from unresolved emotional tension extending over a long period. In other words, you can get it from prolonged Liver Qi stagnation if the latter becomes Liver Fire.

So in both cases, the underlying factor is emotional tension. The most common emotion is anger, with frustration, leading to resentment. Long periods of depression may also eventually become Heart Fire.

Other Factors that make you more likely to get Heart Fire:

Other factors that can incline you towards Heart Fire or which can increase its likelihood include


3/ Heat in the Small Intestine, which can arise from eating too many hot, spicy foods. 


Red Chilli Peppers
© Loic Giraud from Dreamstime Stock Photos


4/ More importantly, it can arise from persisting in pursuit of too many projects in life at the same time. The Small Intestine (in Chinese medicine)  has the ‘job’ of taking decisions (along with the Gall-Bladder). Push it too hard and Heat builds up, leading to manic behaviour. Then you get ‘Small Intestine Heat’. That’s like a small engine forced to rev too high for too long which then begins to overheat.

This Heat in the Small Intestine can ‘transmit’ to the Heart or encourage Heart Fire when there are other predisposing factors.

5/ Too much thinking! A text by Cheng Xing Gan says that because the brain is made of what translates as ‘Marrow’, which comes from the Kidneys, ‘too much thinking’ burns the brain, causing Heart Fire and symptoms of dizziness, blurred vision and tinnitus. 

6/ And your ‘Water’ energy (managed by your Kidneys) in health is supposed to control your Fire energy (which displays through your Heart, for example). So if your Water – Kidney energy is not working properly, it makes you more susceptible to Heart-Fireworks. You can see this opposing/balancing relationship in the four phase diagram:



You’ll also notice the opposing/balancing relationship  applies also to Wood and Metal, but that’s another story. If you want to know more about these 5 kinds of energy, read our page on 5 Element acupuncture.

Fire and Water, Yang and Yin

This relationship between Fire and Water goes right back to the I Ching (Yi Jing), written perhaps 2500 years ago. It’s a major text in Chinese thinking, even today, and it explores the movements between yin and yang. Find out more on our page on yin and or yang.

Chinese medicine also goes back 2500 years. They were smarter surgeons and investigators than we like to imagine, but of course they lacked our modern scientific apparatus. They made up for it with careful observation and the development of a highly sophisticated theory. That theory seems very foreign to us, until you realise how insightful and practicable it is.


Heart Fire symptoms appear mentally, emotionally and physically, all of them reflecting the Heart’s areas of control. Click for what Chinese medicine thinks your Heart does!

By the way, don’t expect to see all the following symptoms appearing at once!

Often it starts after a long period of stress with increased anxiety, palpitations and dream-disturbed sleep, usually a slightly rapid wrist pulse possibly ‘overflowing’ at the left, front position. And? Well, that’s all you may see.

There may not be much redness, except perhaps near the tip of the tongue, where eventually – much later on – there may also be ulcers, with increased thirst. Only as the condition deteriorates do these other symptoms begin to appear.

As the condition progresses you get towards …

Mental Symptoms of Heart Fire TCM:

  • severe anxiety with agitation, 
  • mental restlessness, 
  • tendency to be somewhat ‘hyper’,
  • bursts of inappropriate laughter, 


Being startled too often can lead to Heart Fire

  • easily startled, 
  • then irritable, 
  • loud-voiced,
  • talking lots, even stuttering.

Appearance of Heart Fire

  • can lie on a range from merely feeling hot, to 
  • red nose
  • red complexion,
  • mouth open (and sometimes tongue extended depending on other factors), and/or … 
  • when speaking, unconsciously extending the tongue out of the mouth
  • hot flushes or ‘hot and bothered’, 
  • hot, red, dry, itchy skin (often in the arm-pit or along the Heart meridian)
  • Sleep: insomnia, dream-disturbed, sleep-talking. Although if you are at the ‘high’ stage it may be hard to get to sleep in the first place, people with Heart Fire tend more to keep waking up, often from dreams. The Heart is too hot to let the Shen, the Mind, settle and remain quiet while asleep.For more about the Chinese theory of sleep, click Insomnia.
  • Chest and Heart: tightness; palpitations.
  • Appetite: constant hunger, always picking at food, likes sweets.
  • Circulation: feels and look hot, with hot hands, especially the back of the hands, and sweaty palms.
  • Sexual: nocturnal emissions with dreams, and for men, tendency to premature ejaculation.


Mouth and throat

  • bitter taste in the morning after a bad night’s sleep, 
  • thirst, 
  • may tend to keep mouth open, and may often stick out the tongue
  • red throat; 
  • tongue and mouth ulcers, 
  • tongue sensation is of burning and itching: Heart Fire symptoms often concentrate towards the tongue-tip which may be redder and swollen.

Eyes in Heart Fire TCM:

  • staring, fixed …
  • possibly protruding, 
  • painful, 
  • yellow discharge,
  • red or inflammation at inner canthus and of sclera, 
  • red veins in the eyes, 
  • eyes may lachrimate easily – meaning they easily produce tears.
Red eyes may suggest Heart Fire
Red eyes – Photo by David Clode

Urine: dark urine, may contain blood, urination is painful.


  • Tongue: red, with redder tip which may be swollen or with red points on it. Tongue ulcers, often at the tip, painful with raised edges.
  • Yellow coating on the tongue. As the condition becomes more chronic a crack appears in the mid-line of the tongue, extending towards the tip.
  • Pulse: rapid, overflowing, especially at the left front position. As the condition worsens, the pulse may be not merely rapid but may stop at irregular intervals (the technical term for this is ‘Hasty’).


Women and Heart Fire

  • premenstrual tension, (but note, there are other reasons why a woman might have pmt, breast distension and heavy periods)
  • breast distension, 
  • periods tend to be heavy
  • menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, emotional outbursts, sudden vexations, insomnia, hot sweats, palpitations and so on
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Explanation of Heart Fire symptoms

As Heart Fire flares, it goes upwards and outwards, mentally and onto the skin, causing anxiety and mental agitation.

That leads to lack of control (easily startled, laughs immoderately and at the wrong time).

Later come palpitations, a feeling of heat and signs of inflammation and dryness. It appears on the tongue as ulcers or swelling towards the tip, and on the skin as redness and rashes. 

It upsets the Mind, perturbing normal sleep patterns. Sometimes this makes it hard to get to sleep. More often disturbing dreams wake you frequently. 

[Bit of theory here: skip if it makes no sense! … The Heart Fire is said to transmit to the Small Intestine (Heart and Small Intestine have what is called an Interior-Exterior relationship) and from there to the Bladder, which is paired with the Small Intestine as together they form the Tai Yang: hence the dark urine and painful urination.

Heart Fire can thicken the fluids in the body, producing Phlegm-Fire that Harasses the Mind. This usually occurs when the diet and digestion have been not quite right – often from too many rich, spicy or ‘heating’ foods – see Nutrition. Then you get a situation which is rather like Bipolar disease: Manic-Depression. However, this doesn’t happen overnight. The syndrome has to be there for a while before it moves to this further stage.]

Acupuncture for Heart Fire


Calming Heart Fire


The aim is to clear the Heat and pacify the Mind. 

Points include those towards the end of the meridian at HE-7, HE-8 and HE-9: the front-mu point Ren-15LI-11, Sp-10, Du-24 and Du-19. These points help clear Heat. Sp-6 and Kid-6 regulate Yin. Also points on the Small Intestine meridian such as Si-2 (water point), Si-5 (Fire point), St-39 (lower He-sea point of the Small Intestine).  Notice the importance of those two yin-enhancing points, to help Water control Fire.

Of course, later on, treatment should help the patient cope with the emotional tension and issues surrounding it. One possible (acupuncture) way of helping to do this is to release what is called aggressive energy on the back, a technique known to some acupuncturists. 

Also, your acupuncturist would treat Liver Qi stagnation and give advice on diet and exercise, with counselling if appropriate. 

Sometimes the patient must just walk away from the problem, find another job, do less, back off from the relationship … whatever is causing the emotional tension. 

If the patient can’t or won’t make changes, then any treatment can only be palliative, because the continuing pathogenic factor remains in the patient’s life. Prognosis is then not so good.

Acupuncture is often very successful with this

Overall, acupuncture can be very successful here, by reducing the symptoms and returning the patient to a calmer state, all the better to deal with the situation that started it all off.

The beauty of this approach is that it is methodical, starting with a diagnosis and then using two thousand years (probably much more) of experience to deal with the condition in a practical, reliable way.

It doesn’t require drugs, although Chinese herbal recipes have often been adapted for it, and often it doesn’t require counselling because, once the patient has calmed down, he (she) can see what to do.

Nutrition: Heart Fire Food

What to eat and what NOT to eat?

First, no point eating foods to help if you don’t avoid the foods that hurt!

9 food groups to AVOID if you have Heart Fire:

burger and fries: too many lead to Heart Fire
Greasy, fatty, creamy food is bad for Heart Fire types. Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis
  1. Greasy, oily, fatty, creamy food – including cheeses high in fats
  2. Barbecued animal meat 
  3. Highly spiced food, such as strong curries and food made bold with strong chilli flavouring or Sechuan peppers or strong garlic
  4. Alcohol (particularly spirits like brandy, cognac, armagnac, whisky, rum)
  5. Foods listed in bold italics on our page on Hot Foods
  6. Coffee and other stimulants
  7. Fried and Deep-fried food
  8. Crisps and fried fritters
  9. Too much red meat (What’s too much? Probably more than one red meat meal a week)


9 Tips to Reduce Heart Fire and improve your Heart’s health:

  1. Vegetarian food
  2. Green vegetables
  3. Fresh, oily fish, lightly cooked to retain the essential oils that help your heart (eat this at least twice a week)
  4. In cold climates, take regular porridge made from organic oats. For a good way to prepare it, see Clogstoun Porridgee.
  5. If you want a short-hand way to identify the right diet, think of the so-called Mediterranean diet, with salads, vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans and whole grains. Plant-based foods form the basis. Then some dairy, eggs, poultry and seafood but only occasional red meat. But it’s not all monastic – you can have a little red wine too! (Maybe a half-glass every day.) In winter, eat food that has been cooked and is warm when you eat it.
  6. But don’t over-eat! And don’t eat big meals just before bedtime!
  7. And chew well and long before swallowing!
  8. Don’t eat while you work, or while driving fast to achieve deadlines
  9. Do eat in convivial company – eat with people you like and who, preferably, you can laugh with! That’s important. You should enjoy meals. That enjoyment helps your Heart.
two women sitting on bench at table: eat with people you like and laugh with to help reduce Heart Fire!
Convivial company at meals helps Heart Fire conditions. Photo by Dani Arboleda

What Happens if Heart Fire goes on for too long?

Remember how this started, usually with emotional tension from anger or frustration or resentment? This leads to Liver Qi Stagnation which in time leads to Heart Fire (this page).

Well, what happens if you let Heart Fire go on for too long?

Answer: that heat spreads, and eventually dries you.

In terms of Chinese medicine you then see syndromes like


What does all that mean?

Well, for example, Stomach Fire can give you ulcers in your oesophagus, stomach and intestines, often with burning eructations and burping, and yin deficiency makes it hard to settle down, with high blood pressure.

As the yin deficiency affects your Heart, not only do you get the Heart Fire symptoms described above, but your pulse increases and you easily panic. With the wrong foods (because you’ll find it hard to change your diet) you could be heading straight for major circulatory problems, not excluding stroke and heart attack.


Heart Fire TCM is an excess of Yang in the Heart.

You may also like to read about Heart Yang Deficiency!

You can also get palpitations with that, but for completely different reasons!

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