Heart Qi Stagnation: breathless and palpitations

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

With Heart Qi Stagnation, the Heart is unable to do its job effectively.

In Chinese medicine, your Heart sets the overall direction of your life and suffers when strong emotions get to it.


Of course, the heart organ in Western medicine is what we are familiar with. In Chinese medicine, the Heart (capital H) has a wider application and comes into many parts of our lives, and is just as important as in Western medicine.

Qi – the flow of life in us – is ruled by the Lungs and enabled to flow smoothly by the Liver.

Strong emotions interfere with the Lungs and the Liver. When both are affected, the Heart has to take up the strain.

What do ‘strong emotions’ mean?

  • grief and loss, 
  • anxiety, 
  • worry, 
  • disappointment and sorrow, 


… these mainly affect the Lungs (and the Spleen). But they affect your Heart too, if severe or prolonged.


Whereas emotions such as

  • frustration
  • anger, and 
  • inability to achieve results or success


… affect your Liver and again, your Heart if serious or prolonged.

These strong emotions produce a situation described as Qi Stagnation. Of this, Heart qi stagnation is a sub-category.

Symptoms of Heart Qi Stagnation

When Lungs, Liver and Spleen are so affected, eventually the Heart produces the following symptoms (in brackets are the other organs most affected):

  • Stuffiness in the chest. Stuffiness is felt by some as distension, or fullness or oppression. (Lung)
  • Depression: low spirits (Lung and Liver)
  • Lump in the throat (Liver)
  • Breathlessness: shortness of breath (Lungs and Liver)
  • Need to take a large breath (Lungs)
  • Yawning (Lungs and Liver)
  • Sighing (Lungs)
  • Palpitations 
  • Appetite reduced or non-existent (Stomach)
  • Insomnia: sleep is very restless, not deep (Kidney)
  • Cold arms and legs, including hands (Blood)
  • Weakness in arms and legs (Lungs, Stomach)
  • Lips darker than usual: a little purple 
  • Pallor (Lungs, Spleen)
  • Tongue: a little purple on the sides opposite the chest area
  • Pulse: empty but ‘overflows’ slightly in the Heart pulse position

Possible Consequences

Although the symptoms above are not pleasant, they aren’t life threatening. But, because in Chinese medicine Qi is said to lead the Blood, the trouble is that wherever Qi stagnates, Blood may stagnate, or reach a state of Blood Stasis.

This is not good!

Heart Qi stagnation leads on to Heart Blood StasisHeart Blood Stasis is a syndrome very similar to many severe circulatory disturbances in the Western medicine, and potentially serious.


Treatment of Heart Qi Stagnation

In the absence of treatment by a competent practitioner of Chinese medicine, see your Doctor for a check-up.

However, just as relevant for you is to face up to any emotional issues at the root of this syndrome.

For instance, hiding strong emotions may be a cause (both the tendency to ‘bottle’ them, and the strength of the emotions). This could have happened many years in the past, setting up a body-behavioural habit pattern that leads eventually to Heart Qi Stagnation.

That does not mean that emotions should be allowed to burst forth! Nearly always, however, you will find talking to someone helpful.

Otherwise … Well. You may think yourself strong, but believe me, your emotions are stronger and can overpower you. When they do, they can block Qi in one place (your Heart) and send it rushing into other areas, usually upwards – very destructively: sometimes terminally. Beware. (Heart attack and Stroke come to mind.)

Meantime make sure you eat food containing plenty of Omega-3 oils, and a broad range of green and purple vegetables. Avoid sweet food, foods that become sweet when chewed (this includes white bread, for instance!), sugar and be careful of foods containing salt.

For many people, less yang food is best.

However, you may find occasional warm green tea beneficial.

Read more on our pages on Nutrition and Supplements.

Treatment of Heart Qi Stagnation

Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal prescriptions can make a huge difference. However, because Heart qi stagnation can take years to develop, it can take many months to treat, and you’ll need help choosing the right foods.

This is not a single treatment solution!

A possible point used for Heart Qi stagnation
Acupuncture at the top of the back, useful sometimes for Heart Qi stagnation.

You must persevere. Regular treatment will mean your acupuncturist can assess and adapt his treatments to your changing pathology as you improve. It won’t be the same treatment every time!

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