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.

Aetiology of Heart Qi Stagnation

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: 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. That’s why you find many Heart and Liver Qi stagnation symptoms coming together, the latter first, usually.

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

Talking about symptoms of Heart qi stagnation
Compassion helps 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.

Ambulance for Heart Blood stasis following Heart Qi stagnation
Don’t wait until you need the ambulance!

Dealing with 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.)

Foods for Heart Qi Stagnation

What about a Heart Qi stagnation diet?

Make sure you eat food containing plenty of Omega-3 oils, and a broad range of green and purple vegetables and fruit of various hues, the more colour the better: berries, beets, citrus fruit peel (organic) and root vegetables.

Read our page on Qi Stagnation foods to help or avoid

Eat foods that nourish Stomach Yin and avoid those that harm it. (There’s lots of relevant dietary advice on that page.)

Eat plenty of bitter foods. (Click on that link; it’s full of information you need.)

Avoid sweet food, foods that quickly become sweet when chewed (this includes white bread, for instance and junk or highly-processed food!), sugar too – and be careful of foods containing salt.

For many people, less yang food is best.

Warm green tea helps. It’s slightly bitter, is green and cooling, qualities that usually help Heart Qi stagnation. (But like everything, take green tea in moderation – don’t drown in it!)

Read more on our pages on Nutrition and Supplements.

For a much more comprehensive discussion of how Chinese culture has used food for health and diet as medicine, not least for Heart Qi stagnation, read Andrew Sterman’s excellent ‘Welcoming Food’. In particular, read his chapters on the Small Intestine, which partners with, and guards the best interests of your Heart.

Treatment of Heart Qi Stagnation

Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal prescriptions can make a huge difference. However, because it can take years to develop, it can take months to treat, and you’ll need the right foods for Heart Qi stagnation – see above.

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!

Other relevant pages you may like:

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2 Responses

  1. Hello,

    I was wondering if you could give me a short list of foods that would helpful in treating heart qi stagnation?

    Kind regards

    1. Hullo Ryan, thanks for your request. There was already a short list of foods for Heart Qi stagnation on the page, but I’ve enlarged it and given it a heading.

      Really, however, you need to do some background reading, and I’ve suggested a book for where to start.


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