Liver Fire

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Like Liver Qi stagnation, Liver Fire is common.

Symptoms include: 

  • dizziness
  • distending sensation in the head
  • headache on the temples
  • ringing in the ears or sudden deafness
  • red, swollen or painful eyes
  • bitter or dry taste
  • red, flushed face 
  • and irascibility, fits of anger.

© Christos Georghiou -

Also, anxiety: very anxious - and CROSS

That's not all. Common to this syndrome are other symptoms like:

If it becomes severe, 'flare up of Fire of Liver' (that's the wonderfully flowery way Chinese medicine often describes syndromes!) will damage the Liver’s function of storing the Blood which can lead to nose–bleed (epistaxis) and vomiting of blood (haematemesis).

  • Tongue is often red, with a yellow tongue coating
  • Pulse is wiry and rapid.

Heat rises, so all the symptoms of flaring up of Fire of Liver, whether mild or severe, are in the upper body and head.


The key feature is irascibility. The patient often displays this but may complain about it too and if not, you must enquire - it’s important, because another condition – Liver Yang rising – can also have this, but it lacks the irascibility of Liver Fire.

Soon after I began practising acupuncture, my mentor Dr Mary Austin gave me one of her patients.

I now think it was probably a little test, but also I realised later on that perhaps she and he didn't really get on.

He was in his fifties, grey-haired and, I thought, very self-possessed. He said he had a slight headache.

For me, a slight headache usually gets better overnight, so just needs rest. He said, firmly, this was not the case; sleep did not help.

So I dutifully took his case. Time went by with me enquiring politely about his reaction to the weather (enjoy the sun), his temper (very good), his bowel actions (perfectly regular thankyou), what position he slept in (very comfortably so I tend to forget but thank you for asking), what he felt like during a headache (want to get rid of it), his parents and grandparents and their health (I think he rolled his eyes but out of loyalty to Mary Austin he soldiered on) and lots more like that.

Used as he was to Mary Austin's immediate diagnoses, he eventually got a little restless.

Looking back on it, I'm a bit embarrassed, but that is how I'd been taught and I felt I should leave no stone unturned.

Eventually, with remarkable control, I now realise, he asked me whether he had told me enough about his headache and did I have a diagnosis.

I thought it perhaps time to take his pulses. Now, at that stage of training in the UK we had hardly heard of the huge and sophisticated benefits from Chinese medicine's contribution to understanding the pulses, and I could just about distinguish between a fast and a slow pulse and between a strong and a weak pulse.

Remembering that he was a mild-mannered man with a slight headache, I took his wrist and approached his radial artery with confidence that his pulse would be a little weak and perhaps slow.

I have to report to you that so strong was his pulse that it nearly knocked my fingers off his wrist. Not just strong, but fast.

Slowly putting things together in my brain, I began asking better questions.

Could he tell me more about his headache?

'NO HE BLOODY WELL COULD NOT!' (Those capitals should be quadruple size - he was yelling at me.)

Now I began realising everything I'd missed.
The redness in his eyes which I had thought was due to a little alcohol earlier - but probably was a measure of a lot of alcohol daily.
The colour of his face, which I had thought was a healthy ruddy colour but was much more than that.
Did he take any medication?

YES HE BLOODY WELL DID AND I SHOULD HAVE ASKED BEFORE: FOR INSOMNIA; CONSTIPATION; BLOOD IN HIS URINE; TINNITUS AND DIZZINESS. (Quadruple Capitals, multiplied by now.) (There may have been other medications but I've forgotten - this was probably 1980.)

Although I wasn't familiar with Liver Fire, I certainly knew what to do - call Mary Austin! Together we worked out a treatment plan, using points that, when I learned about it later, I realised benefit Liver Fire.

I'm glad to say they worked, and he became a loyal patient until he retired and moved abroad.

So learn to ask the right questions. Know your theory and syndromes. Be Observant.

And if you're an acupuncturist and just starting, be very suspicious if you're sent patients by your mentor.

Aetiology of Liver Fire

Aetiology of Flare-up of Fire of Liver

1/ Liver Fire often appears after long-term Liver qi stagnation.

There’s a saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine, that ‘excessive Qi makes Fire’.

Imagine rubbing your hands together too hard: the friction creates heat and if your hands were wood, they’d catch fire.

Concerning Qi stagnation, see also my book, mentioned below (but don't buy the Kindle edition: I'm updating it).

2/ Over-indulgence in alcohol and tobacco smoking for long periods exacerbates Liver Fire.

(As you may know, both alcohol and tobacco, in small doses, have a relaxing effect on Liver Qi stagnation. But in large quantities over long periods, they have the opposite effect. The same is true for other substances, herbs and drugs that work the same way.)

3/ Irritant foods also give rise to Fire. For example hot pepper, strongly heating spices, chilli, very oily or greasy foods, etc. Most people don't have a problem with, say, the occasional spicy meal, but some people do, and some people take these foods at every meal, then wonder why they start developing symptoms of flare-up of Fire of Liver. You could also get this from eating greasy bacon and eggs for breakfast too often. Here it might first show up simply as a tendency to blepharitis or redness in the margins of your eyelids. 

Click here for a list of foods that have a heating effect - to be avoided.

If you ignore these tendencies, they can lead to Liver Wind, which is not such a bed of roses! So enjoy spicy meals in moderation. 

Of course, if you grew up in a culture where spicy food was the norm, your body may have adjusted to it in youth.

From then on you may need more spicy food than others to maintain health. But even so, I would argue, you probably remain more prone to this condition.

Other Liver syndromes

Read about other Liver syndromes by clicking on the following:

Liver Functions in general including Liver Qi Stagnation

Liver Blood Deficiency

Liver Blood Stasis

Liver Channel Cold Stagnation

Liver Damp Heat

Liver Fire

Liver Wind

Liver Yang rising

Liver Yin deficiency

Booking Consultations with Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott
Please note: during this Covid 19 pandemic, consultations with Jonathan can only be done by Telephone or Skype

Click here to see when Jonathan is available, or to BOOK your appointment online. 

Alternatively, ring him on 07950 012501 or freephone (only free to telephone within the UK) 0800 298 7015.

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.)

('Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine' published 1986, was never available in a Kindle version.)

Request! Please!

If, having read one of my books you can write a review - preferably positive - that would help others decide whether to read it.

You can put your review on Amazon or, on this site, here.

And if you think it was terrible?

Well, let me know so I can improve it for the next person. (Ideally let me know before cursing it in public!)

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

Subscribers to Kindle Unlimited can borrow the first four for 'free'.

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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