‘Syndrome’ in Chinese Medicine

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A ‘syndrome‘ is what acupuncturists trained in classical Chinese medicine treat. They are different from Western-defined diseases or illnesses.

Acupuncturists and other practitioners of Chinese medicine are often asked to treat Western-defined illnesses.

By diagnosing an illness the Chinese way, they force themselves to consider the condition from a very different perspective.


Acupuncturist taking the case
Acupuncture consultation


Which is, after all, often why you are consulting them.

Once your acupuncturist diagnoses a syndrome, he will be able to suggest changes you can make to help yourself, in exercise, diet, nutrition and sometimes lifestyle.

Examples of syndromes

Before explaining the word, here are a few examples of syndromes in Chinese medicine.


As you read the explanations you’ll recognise Western-style symptoms: perhaps you will also notice a different approach to disease.


Combined Syndromes

It is common to find someone has several at once: a few are listed above. For example, someone might have Heart Blood deficiency with Spleen deficiency.

In that case, choosing which was the primary cause would be important: it would probably be the Spleen deficiency. As the condition proceeded, other of these ‘building blocks’ might appear.

For example, Spleen deficiency, which has symptoms such as tiredness, poor digestion, loose stools and a tendency to worry, eventually leads to a condition not unlike anaemia, although the Chinese explanation for Blood deficiency goes rather further than does the Western medicine definition of anaemia.


Depending on the individual’s circumstances, for example his

  • inherited constitution,
  • education
  • age,
  • means and
  • habitation


this might or might not lead eventually to Heart Blood deficiency, or perhaps some other kind of Blood deficiency, such as Liver Blood deficiency.

Liver Blood deficiency might then produce Liver Blood stagnation, which could lead to Liver Qi Stagnation.

So, when someone consults a practitioner of Chinese medicine and explains all the problems he’s having, the practitioner is quietly working out what are the Chinese medicine syndromes involved.


Definition in TCM?

It’s a collection of signs or symptoms of energetic imbalance in a patient’s condition. Each syndrome will have been gradually identified over the millennia, as being associated with the malfunction of one or more zang-fu. All this comes down to us in the form of TCM theory. Or your acupuncturist might be trained to use the 5 Elements tradition. Or both.

Of course, acupuncturists trained the traditional Chinese way will also consider your health from the point of view of changes or problems in the flow of Qi along your acupuncture channels (also called acupuncture ‘meridians’). These produce another kind of syndrome.

What can be done with these building blocks?

Knowing the theory of Chinese medicine, how the zang-fu should work in health, and knowing how acupuncture points work, how herbs work, how the other forms of therapy work in Chinese medicine, you learn how to treat syndromes when things are failing.

For example, you learn which acupuncture points help Liver Qi stagnation, which has signs like those of stress (see the book mentioned below).


Many acupuncturists don’t use them!

This is often because they have not been trained how to use them. This may be because their training gave no credit to over 3000 years of experience and the assembled wisdom of Chinese medicine.

Foot acupunture is often used to treat a syndrome


Indeed, many people who use acupuncture needles use them only as an adjunct to other methods of pain-control.

This can mean that their treatment fails to address an underlying reason for the patient’s condition which is then more likely to recur.


More things under Heaven and Earth …

This site is mainly about Chinese medicine and its application using acupuncture, but we should remember that there are also other fine and important health traditions based on the body’s energy. 

For example, Japan, Korea and Vietnam each developed its own way of using acupuncture for health. Then followed other traditions such as Shiatsu and, nowadays in the West, Reiki and other therapies.

Some traditions, such as the 5 Element system, don’t use the word ‘syndrome’ but they still use the basic idea behind the word when deciding how to treat a patient.

By the way! … In case you want to read more about this, click on our page on Syndromes (plural) which covers much the same material as this page but is easier to read.

Return from Syndrome to our Home page.

Jonathan Brand colours

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