Heart Phlegm Fire
Phlegm Fire Harasses the Heart

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What is Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart?

Heart Phlegm Fire, also known as 'Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart',  has two forms.

They are interconnected and can change from one to the other. Because of that alternation they can resemble bipolar disorder.

On the one hand, there is the Fire phase, when there is crazy laughter, over-confidence, shouting, physical violence, incoherent behaviour and speech. (Read Heart Fire for the earlier stages of this condition.)

The other phase is the phlegm phase. This is less violent. There is more muttering to himself, with what seems like dullness and depression. He is often confused about his circumstances, and not quite living in the moment.

Either phase can lead to the inability to understand you or to speak, and even on to coma.

However, although the later stages of Heart Phlegm Fire are usually easy to recognise, the earlier stages may merely seem like somewhat wild behaviour: raucous with disproportionate laughter and fits of over-excitement, over-friendliness, over-joyfulness and hyperactivity.

Understanding Heart Phlegm Fire

In Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart, Heat (from the causes given below) blazing over a period of time has not merely pushed energy upwards but has 'thickened' the body's fluids. (Lots of cooking similes in Chinese medicine! Here the idea is that if you simmer a mixture over heat for long enough it will become thicker and more ‘phlegm’-like.)

Don’t think of the blood fluids moving through the Heart here: in Chinese Medicine, the Heart is seen as the governor of the Mind, for which the fluids are lighter and clearer.

However, when heated they thicken to form Phlegm which is said to block or obstruct the 'orifices of the Heart'. The Mind is disturbed and cannot then function properly, if at all.

This is an 'excess' condition, in whichever of the two forms the patient presents. The heat and the phlegm must be cleared to treat the patient successfully.

Causes of Heart Phlegm Fire

192416 © Olga Vasilkova


The causes of Heart Phlegm Fire share predisposing factors common with Heart Fire.

The main underlying factor is emotional. Strong emotions, often suppressed over a long period, (particularly resentment and anger) cause Qi stagnation. Qi stagnation is such a common cause of ill-health that I've written a book about it. See the link below.

This suppressed emotion eventually turns into Fire, much as someone sufficiently goaded will eventually 'flare up'.

One should remember that Qi Stagnation occurs in a variety of different situations, including pre-menstrual syndrome, relationship problems, work conditions, and situations of fear and anxiety.

Qi stagnation here can be intense – though there are always other contributory factors – and any Qi stagnation eventually turns to Liver Yang rising or to Heat, causing Heart Fire, for example.

However, other states can produce or contribute to it.

For example, a state of over-excitement, even if pleasurable, as when always searching for stimulation and an adrenaline ‘rush’; or continually laughing or giggling at everything: all point to a state of what Chinese medicine calls Excess Joy, which generates Heat.

Heat can also be generated externally, say from an invasion of Wind-Heat invading the Pericardium (an infectious disease, say), but here there would normally be fewer Phlegm signs, just coma or confusion.

The other main contributory factor for Phlegm is the diet, although a tendency to worry all the time should not be overlooked (as in some women in pregnancy).

Read my book "Yuck! Phlegm!" for much more about what people on the web recommend for phlegm, what works and what doesn't. It also suggests foods and herbs for different conditions.

Too much rich, dairy or greasy and hot, pungent and spicy food taken over too long a period provide a basis for Phlegm to form.

Why? Because all these foods have a heating effect on the body, being rich, oily or spicy - or all three.

Indeed, even before the Heart Phlegm Fire begins, there may be signs of Phlegm-Heat, being yellow catarrh or sputum, and a yellow greasy coating on the tongue; stools may be offensive and urgent, even burning, with bad breath; there may be skin eruptions with thick yellow discharges: all these are signs of phlegm-heat, a precursor – with Heart Fire – of Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart.

Although the contributing factors to this, (Heart Fire and Phlegm from a poor diet) may take a while to appear, sometimes the onset of Phlegm Fire harassing the Heart can appear quite suddenly prompted by some emotional trigger or feverish condition.

Mental Symptoms of Heart Phlegm Fire

Just to repeat: the early stages of this condition may not be anything like as extreme as you’ll read below. Those early stages may include rather extreme, raucous laughter and behaviour; a bit manic perhaps, always up for excitement and enjoying the rush of anticipation, but not completely outside the bounds of behaviour (depending on your society’s customs, of course!).

The individual may seem overtly friendly, bordering on the rude. However, if there is a background of resentment or anger, which then combines with a diet full of rich, greasy, hot-spicy foods, you have all the ingredients for Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart.

Now all it needs is either a fever, a fright or a fury to set it off.

Very common are the palpitations, the ‘loudness’, the yellow tongue coating and what is called a Heart line on the tongue along the midline reaching the tip, and ulcers or burning soreness and/or swelling at the tongue-tip.

As symptoms develop the following begin to appear:

  • Anxiety and severe agitation, with muttering, confusion and abusive behaviour: - this can alternate with a dull depression.
  • There may also be hallucinations, phobias, and the hearing of voices. Speech is incoherent, with mental confusion.

260693 © Marilyn Barbone

  Dreamstime Stock Photos

  • Behaviour can become manic, rash and violent, with scolding or hitting out at people.
  • There may be uncontrolled laughing and crying, then suddenly he is muttering to himself.
  • Easily startled – a sign of the Heart not being grounded.
  • As the condition worsens there may be aphasia (impaired ability for language, such as complete inability to remember words or to speak or understand you, to read or write). This can lead to coma.

Phlegm Fire harassing the Heart is often seen in Bipolar disorder, the name now given to what used to be called manic-depression.

Physical Symptoms of Heart Phlegm Fire

  • Sleep: insomnia. Difficulty both in getting to sleep and then also from frequent waking. The sleep is light and restless, and greatly dream-disturbed.
  • Hypertension – high blood pressure - is often a feature of Heart Phlegm Fire
  • Slight tremor
  • Palpitations: the heart rate races out of control. In itself this can be distressing although actually it’s not always a serious matter: lots of fairly healthy people have the occasional episode of this, which they hardly notice. But with Heart (ie Phlegm Fire Harassing the Heart) it becomes frequent and shows how Heart Fire lacks any kind of brake on its speed, just as the individual concerned lacks the ability to put a brake on his behaviour.
  • In the region of the heart, there is often a sensation of heat and the chest feels oppressed, making breathing difficult.
  • Complexion is red, eyes are blood-shot.
  • In the mouth, there’s a bitter taste with thirst. The tongue is red and painful.
  • In the throat you can hear the rattle of sputum which if expectorated is yellow and thick.
  • Urine is dark
  • Pulse: slippery and rapid and overflowing (These are technical terms to describe the sensation an acupuncturist feels when 'taking' the pulse. A ‘slippery’ pulse feels like an oily pearl slipping under your fingers: it means there is phlegm in the body (it can also mean pregnancy, the foetus acting like a great lump of ‘fat’ or ‘phlegm’ in the body!). Pulse rapidity indicates heat. ‘Overflowing’ means ‘excess’: it often appears after the first stage of infectious disease and shows excess heat. It is felt immediately under the surface of the skin – you don’t need any pressure to feel it. It comes up like a sudden wave surging up forcefully at your finger, and then retreats suddenly - as if the blood is jittery or jumpy.)
  • Tongue: tongue body is red, especially at the tip, which is often swollen and painful. The tongue coating is yellow and thick. There is very often a mid-line crack extending to the tip, with yellow moss in it.

Treatment Strategy

This is definitely not a do-it-yourself strategy. Get professional help! The aim of treatment is to clear the Phlegm and reduce the Heat.

There are various acupuncture points that do this. Also herbs.

However, what you can do to help yourself:

  • Avoid situations that upset or inflame you.
  • Avoid rich, spicy, oily, fatty, alcoholic food or drink. (Christmas is a particularly bad time because nearly all Christmas-like foods are exactly the wrong thing for you. What is more, Christmas often brings rows. Hence the fall-outs in January, some of them undoubtedly due to this syndrome.)

Other Heart Syndromes

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Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott Books

All the books in the 'Chinese Medicine in English' series should be fully accessible on Kindles and Kindle apps. (Or you can buy the softback print editions, of course.)

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Here are some of the books I (Jonathan) have written.

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Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress

Yin Deficiency - Burnout and Exhaustion

Yang Deficiency - Get Your Fire Burning Again!

Yuck! Phlegm! How to Clear Your Phlegm ...

Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine

Published 1986 and, amazingly, still selling. Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine was apparently used back then by at least one acupuncture college to help students understand Chinese medicine! See Reviews.

Seven Reviews so far for Yuck Phlegm. (Despite the lurid cover, it explains the five main types of phlegm and what works best for each type. I hope it's easy to read and will be much more useful than all the websites on the subject.)

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