Stomach Fire: symptoms and treatment

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Key Learning Points

  • Burning and pain in your stomach? Could be Stomach Fire! (Actually, this is Stomach Heat, but ‘Heat’ hardly touches the Fire you feel. So let’s leave it as Stomach Fire.)
  • Drugs control it but cause other problems
  • Some foods and some emotions make it worse
  • Which foods help?

Nowadays with modern medications, Stomach Fire‘s symptoms seem easy to manage. You almost certainly think you’ve got it under control with antacids or modern medicines like omeprazole. However, I don’t believe this really cures it. You may end up with other symptoms – see below.

Here’s how to understand your condition and what to do about it.

Stomach Fire symptoms

When these symptoms first began you probably ignored them: they were mild, occasional and only after some kinds of food. The symptoms were easily remedied by taking antacids.

Time passed and you probably had more worries. Also, you began to notice foods that did suit you and foods that did not. 

Now you began getting pain more often. Your doctor prescribed medicine for heartburn and to prevent or repair a gastric ulcer.

You were told to take the medication regularly, not just when in pain. And it works! No pain – Great! But sooner or later you notice symptoms again as the heartburn returns. Eventually you need additional medication or a higher dose of your doctor’s medicine.

Worse, his medicine will bring additional symptoms. Some of them are listed on the packet and some of them are peculiar to your interaction with the medicine.

Read more on this at Primary and Secondary actions.

So on this page I try to show how Chinese medicine might approach your problem. It may suggest changes in your diet which you probably know about, plus changes in other areas of life.

Were you to consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine for your Stomach Fire, either a herbalist or acupuncturist, usually any side-effects would be short-term and easily adjusted for in the next treatment – unlike many Western medicines.

Symptoms of Stomach Fire

Stomach Fire’s symptoms cannot be ignored! (By the way, you don’t need all of them to qualify!)

  • Burning pain in your stomach area, high in your epigastrium
  • Thirst: strong, for cold drinks, preferably iced
  • Stools: dry, sometimes hard to pass, even causing bleeding
  • Breath: bad breath, some burping and eructations (acid reflux-type) which taste sour or acidic: you use breath fresheners
  • Very hungry: often need to eat, partly to prevent burning pain
  • Nausea: particularly after eating the wrong kinds of food
  • Vomiting sometimes after the wrong kinds of food
  • Mouth: toothache and swollen or bleeding gums; you may chew gum so as to avoid smiling and to hide the smell of your breath. You like mint flavours.
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Hot – not just in your stomach area, but a general feeling of heat. You wear less than most people, even on very cold days. You may be the one wearing just a T-shirt during snow!
  • Mentally you find it hard to concentrate or settle. You switch between TV channels, seldom finding programmes you like
  • Pulse: Fire makes it fast or rapid. On the right wrist in what is called the middle position – where the Stomach pulse is felt – it feels big (the technical term is ‘over-flowing‘)
  • Tongue: with the thirst and heat is a redness in the centre of your tongue. Over the surface is a dry coating: its colour is either yellow, dark-yellow or even black in places.

What happens next with Stomach Fire?



Stomach Fire can change as it worsens. If you have Stomach Fire symptoms, be reassured, it usually takes a while for the worst of the symptoms to appear, if they appear at all. And then, only with a continuation of strong causes over a long of time.

But in Chinese medicine, the potential is there.

  • It can occur with other syndromes. The following is a bit technical but if you show it to your acupuncturist, he or she may be able to explain it more.
  • For example, if it affects your Liver energy, you easily get irritated: prone to road rage; shout at other drivers and your children for trivial errors; hurl books you disagree with across the room; abuse the television. Co-workers become wary of your short fuse. If you get these mental symptoms, some of the Heat has transferred to other energy organs and is affecting your behaviour.
  • It can lead to a drying out of your bodily fluids and what is called Yin deficiency, including Stomach Yin deficiency.
  • This heat generated by Stomach Fire can ‘condense’ your body fluids rather than just dry them out. If so your Blood is said to become thicker. When thicker it is more like glue, causing Stomach Blood stasis. That can be painful!

Stomach Phlegm-Fire

  • Another way the Stomach Fire condenses liquids is to thicken the mucus in your throat and chest, making Phlegm. The heat turns this into ‘Phlegm-Fire’, often called, here, Stomach Phlegm-Fire.
  • With Stomach Phlegm-Fire, the Phlegm makes your chest and upper abdomen feel heavy and oppressed, sometimes even itchy or irritated by clothing.
  • Because Phlegm tends to accumulate or ‘be stored’ in your Lungs, you also get symptoms typical of Lung Phlegm Heat such as a feeling of stuffiness, fullness or oppression in your chest and epigastrium. You may be able to expectorate some of this phlegm. Because there is a connection between your Lungs and your Large Intestine, mucus may turn up in your stools too. 
  • Often hot Phlegm leads on to mental disturbances because the Phlegm in your chest interferes with your Heart energy, leading to syndromes like Heart Phlegm Fire.
  • Here your tongue would almost certainly be red and have a thick, sticky yellow coating.
  • Your pulse would become not just rapid and ‘over-flowing’, but also ‘slippery’. (These words, ‘over-flowing’ and ‘slippery’ describe what your pulse feels like to a trained pulse taker. Slipperiness in a pulse denotes the presence of a form of excess yin energy, in this case Phlegm, though it can suggest Damp or some kind of abdominal fullness, such as from pregnancy or retention of food.)
  • When a syndrome spreads like this, it becomes more serious and takes longer to cure. In the meantime, you’ll be seeing your doctor more often, asking for treatment for conditions like insomnia and high blood pressure, and your dentist for tooth and gum problems.

Causes of Stomach Fire

There are two main causes: food and emotions. One can fuel the other. However, sometimes you find someone who eats all the wrong foods but leads a very calm and placid life, so the emotional symptoms don’t develop.

Food and Diet as a cause of Stomach Fire

The foods you eat are making you ill. Please don’t be insulted! Foods can make you hot or cold – read about the energy of food under Nutrition.

With Stomach Fire you are suffering from heat – you can feel the burning! Probably you are eating, or have eaten in the past, too much food that is classified as heating.


Greasy food, bad for Liver Fire and also Stomach Fire
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

To discover which foods are heating, go to Hot Foods.

Concentrated Foods

Bear in mind, however, that very concentrated foods, or eating your food in a concentrated pattern (too much food in a short period of time) can also provoke heat as your body strives to cope.

From the Chinese point of view, this is not a balanced intake of food over the day.

Also, of course, apart from herbs, most foods in Chinese medicine are more watery than people in the West are used to, or like.

For example, if you read up my page on Clogstoun Congee you’ll realise that grains, cooked the way explained, can carry far more water into your system than eating comparatively ‘dry’ foods then drinking lots of water.

Emotions that cause Stomach Fire

Although a small number of people get cold when angry or frustrated, usually strong emotions are heating:

  • anger
  • anxiety that makes you nervous and restless
  • frustration
  • jealousy
  • target chasing under time pressure
  • resentment
  • stress
  • worry


You may think this doesn’t apply to you, but concentrating on one subject for long periods, whilst not moving around much, amounts to stress from ‘over-thinking’. This would have a heating effect.

These, and other strong emotions except easy laughter, cause Qi stagnation especially Stomach Qi stagnation. Qi Stagnation causes Heat which produces Stomach Fire.

Also producing Qi stagnation, with consequent tendency to Stomach Fire:

  • tremendous demands on your time without proper rest
  • juggling many different projects at the same time or during a working day
  • long hours worrying about something through the night when you should be asleep
  • mild but continuous stress, day and night, such as when caring for the young, old or infirm, or working all day at a job then returning to care for someone at night
  • doing several jobs daily, for example, one before your main job, then the job itself, then an evening or night job as well
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Both causes together?

If you have only one of these as a cause (ie either a heating diet OR Qi stagnation-producing emotions) Stomach Fire will take longer to appear. 

Unfortunately, if stressed we tend to gravitate towards heating foods, so the syndrome arrives faster. (Think of all the packets of crisps, biscuits, and fat-coated foods you enjoy when relaxing – probably with a nice glass containing alcohol!  – all heating!)

And people who eat heating foods are more easily stressed.

So, usually, both exist as causes.

What can you do about Stomach Fire?



Baking Soda


You probably already know about antacids. Many of these are based on bicarbonate of soda, which you can buy from your grocery as a powder and is much cheaper than the pills pharmacists like to sell you.

But taken frequently, antacids, which contain various minerals, easily unbalance your body’s metabolism. For example, excess sodium – as salt or as a bicarbonate – may eventually raise your blood pressure.

Aluminium, often used in antacids, is thought to be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. And maybe constipation too.

If you are taking antacids more than three times a week, you probably should see a doctor – or an acupuncturist!

Other drugs and anxiety medication

Various drugs control, or suppress, how much stomach acid you produce. They include cimetidine (Tagamet), omepraxole (Prilosec/Losec) and ranitidine (Zantac). The technical name for these is ‘protein pump inhibitor‘.

Every medication under the sun has both a primary and a secondary effect, albeit not noticed initially.

A word on Omeprazole

“In an editorial, Ian Forgacs, of King’s College Hospital in London, said the drug may not be as benign as doctors believe.  The drug group may be playing a part in increased cases of pneumonia, and it may also be doubling the risk of hospital-acquired infections such as C. difficile.”  (Source:  British Medical Journal, 2008; 336: 2)

In other research done by the University of Nottingham UK, ‘people taking the ulcer drug omeprazole face a 10-fold increased risk of developing gastroenteritis caused by the bug campylobacter, now a more common stomach infection than salmonella.’

Why do you tend to get more infections if you take one of these protein pump inhibitors? Because they suppress stomach acid, which is a potent protection against infection! Your gastric juices kill bugs! So if you suppress stomach acid, you get more bugs.

Anxiety Medication and Anti-Stress: Anxiety Stomach Pain Relief

Western medicine realises that mental stress, especially chronic stress, can lead to physical problems. Hence your doctor prescribes ‘anxiety medication’ to help you worry less: it’s ‘anti stress’! Basically he does anxiety treatment ie to reduce anxiety. If you get high anxiety symptoms you’ll almost certainly have Stomach Qi Stagnation, which leads on to Stomach Fire. (However, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and not all of them produce Stomach Fire. Find out more at our page on acupuncture and anxiety.)

Ultimately (the secondary effect) this anxiety medication suppresses your yang energy, leading in time to a form of yang deficiency: you gradually become less reactive to life, which slows you down, possibly retarding how you respond to events. This may help make you more relaxed but in some situations could endanger your life.

Acupuncture Treatment Strategy for Stomach Fire

If your condition was diagnosed as being due to Stomach Fire, (but notice that burning in your epigastrium could also be due to other syndromes, such as Stomach Yin deficiency or Stomach Qi Stagnation*), the correct treatment is to

  • drain the Fire and 
  • start your Stomach energy descending again. 


That’s not so easy by yourself! See an acupuncturist!

*Stomach Qi stagnation often comes from or reinforces depression and then you’ll need – probably first – acupuncture for anxiety and depression. This would include acupuncture for Spleen Qi deficiency. In one way, the treatment helps you understand how to reduce internal inflammation.

As regards stress relief activities – ways to reduce stress – read our page on Qi Stagnation and Stress: what to do to relieve stress.

What you CAN do for Stomach Fire

What YOU can do is reduce the foods that make it worse.

Changing one’s diet is not easy, but if you gradually remove one thing at a time and add something better (eg less peanuts and meat, and more green vegetables) your Stomach Fire condition will have a chance to improve.

I suggest you do  not suddenly abandon eating all the foods mentioned on our page on Hot Foods, in favour of green salads!

While theoretically this might be right, and has been known to work, the more attached you are to your current diet, the less likely you are to keep to a new diet. So, change gradually!

For example, start by eating one meal less daily of fried or deep-fried food and add some – or more –  green vegetables to your diet. 

Whichever way you choose, chew well. Also:

  • start using mint tea
  • add avocado pears to your diet – they are cooling but also help your body coat the walls of your stomach
  • aloe vera juice – a tablespoon three times daily – helps your intestines to cool down and heal
  • herbs like ginger and fennel, and papaya tea, help your absorb nutrients from food
  • Mix a tablespoon of organic cider vinegar in a glass of water and sip it through a meal instead of water or any other liquid. Start the day with it!
  • Read our page on Cold Foods. If you decide to include some of them in your diet, apart from salads cook them and eat them warm.
  • to support your Stomach Yin energy, start making yourself Clogstoun Congee.
  • did we say, chew well? Why? Because it makes food smaller, so you need less stomach acid and improves absorption. Also it slows you down. With luck, you’ll take longer over meals and even start making them more of a social occasion with friends, which has a beneficial effect in itself.
  • And, chewing well is thought to improve your sex life. (Yes, in Chinese medicine there’s theory about this! If you’re interested in this subject – who isn’t? – read our page on sexual potency.)

Stress, resentment, jealousy, anger:

Very difficult to change these in yourself except over time or with help. Try you must! Or you must give up something before something gets you!

Regarding the effects of stress, resentment, anger, frustration etc, if your condition is diagnosed as due to Qi Stagnation, acupuncture can almost certainly help. Try it!

Other things to do:

  • learn Tai Chi
  • learn yoga
  • join an exercise class
  • take up gentle dancing: the exercise dissipates Heat. 
  • take up walking, not running
  • avoid cycling with bent-over low slung handlebars because in this position you compress your stomach


Stomach Syndromes

Here are various other Stomach syndromes (which can also combine with other syndromes). The main ones to watch out for, if you have Stomach Fire, are marked with an asterix (*):

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