Understanding Your Diagnosis

If you're new to Chinese medicine then you're likely curious what it means to have Qi deficiency or blood stagnation. Because Chinese medicine is based on a completely different foundation than the medicine most of us are familiar with, there can be a bit of a learning curve when we first dive in, and that's fine! I'm here to help.

When viewing the body as a holistic system, imbalances in one part of the body is rarely an isolated incidence. It's common for patients to have 2 or 3, or even more, diagnoses. Having several diagnoses isn't necessarily worse than having fewer, it depends much more on severity on the condition.

I do my best to explain to my patients what their diagnosis is and what nutritional and lifestyle adjustments I recommend to further support them, but this is meant to act as a reference guide you can always check back with.

Listed below are the majority of the conditions I see in my patients, just click to expand. Please note, for the sake of simplicity, this is not a comprehensive list of all Chinese medical diagnoses.

+ Heart Blood Deficiency

Heart blood may become deficient secondary to Liver blood deficiency (see below), or it may become deficient on its own because of stress, strong emotions, loss of blood, or poor diet.

The heart is said to house the shen (which is our spirit) which includes our personality, consciousness, and much of our mental activity. When the heart blood is deficient then the shen no longer has a comfortable house in which to reside and become restless or wandering, most commonly manifesting as anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, depression, or easily overcome with emotions.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible

Foods to incorporate:

  • Vegetables: plenty of dark leafy greens, any color vegetables (eat the rainbow)
  • Meats: grassfed beef, dark chicken meat, organ meats such as liver
  • Whole grains: wheat

Foods to avoid:

  • Too many raw vegetables, salads, smoothies, juices
  • Cold food and drink, especially when frozen or with ice
  • Refined sugars and overly sweet foods
  • Overly spicy foods

+ Heart Qi Deficiency

While Qi is often translated as “energy” I have found that “function” is a much better translation. Therefore, Heart Qi Deficiency, or lack of Heart function, can result in symptoms such as palpitations (whether caused by anxiety or a physical issue with the heart.)

Heart Qi Deficiency can be the result of Qi Deficiency elsewhere in the body that eventually taxes the Heart. For example, Lung Qi Deficiency (see below) can quickly cause the Heart Qi to become deficient.

Because the Heart is said to house the spirit (called the Shen) it can also become weak from the excess of emotions or a traumatic emotional event, whether the emotions are grief, anger, or sadness.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Try to avoid "overdoing" anything, especially work

Foods to incorporate:

  • Meats: chicken,

Foods to avoid:

  • Too many raw vegetables, salads, smoothies, juices
  • Cold food and drink, especially when frozen or with ice
  • Refined sugars and overly sweet foods
  • Overly spicy foods

+ Heart Yin Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. The Yang energy in our bodies is what keeps us warm, active, and alert.

Because Yin is cool in nature, when the body does not have enough Yin we see heat signs arise. They are different the “true” heat signs because they are not caused by an excess of heat, but rather a deficiency of cool. Therefore, these heat signs arise at Yin times of day (hot flashes, night sweats, or insomnia at night) or on Yin parts of the body (hot sensation in the chest or the palms of their hands where the Heart channel passes through.)

Because the Heart is said to house the spirit (called the Shen) the Heart Yin is particularly vulnerable to very powerful emotions and can become taxed by emotionally traumatic events or chronic stress. Once the Heart Yin is depleted it becomes difficult for the Shen to contain emotions and overthinking, a common symptoms of Heart Yin Deficiency is the inability to quiet the mind, especially at night.

+ Kidney Qi Deficiency

Qi often gets translated as “energy” but “function” is much more descriptive. Kidney Qi Deficiency is when the Kidney system is not functioning as well as it could.

This could be because of congenital Kidney deficiency, which can be passed from generation to generation, but it is also common to see Kidney Qi deficiency after extreme stress or illness, since the Kidney system acts as a foundation for many of the other organ systems and energy from the Kidneys often gets borrowed to be used elsewhere.

Because the Kidney system is responsible for urination, if it is deficient then symptoms of frequent urination or incontinence of urine may be noted. Because the Kidneys are located in the low back, pain in the low back is a common symptom.

The Kidney system is also responsible for the endocrine system, nervous system, as well as much of reproduction, so symptoms may include low energy, hormonal imbalance, infertility or sexual dysfunction.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Stay hydrated but do not drink excessive amounts of water

Foods to incorporate:

  • Meats: fish, oysters, mussels
  • All seeds, but especially black sesame seeds
  • Bone broth
  • Small amounts of good quality sea salt (should have some color to it)

Foods to avoid:

  • Overly salty foods, iodized salt (aka "table salt")

+ Kidney Jing Deficiency

Jing is translated as “essence” or “vitality” and the Kidney is the only organ system that contains Jing. It is said to be one of our 3 treasures, the others being Qi (energy) and Shen (spirit.)

Jing is one of the deepest substances in our body. We get Jing from our parents and we pass it onto our children. It naturally declines with age, but if it is deficient early on in life it may cause developmental problems or may be diagnosed in Western medicine as a genetic condition.

While Jing slowly depletes during our lifetime, that process can be sped up by overwork (whether it is physical or mental) as well as excessive sexual activity or chronic illness. Once Jing is depleted common symptoms may be infertility, low libido, graying hair, weak/sore low back and knees, skeletal or dental issues, and cognitive decline.

Jing is often referred to as “the Sea of Marrow” which not only includes our bone marrow but also our brain and spinal cord.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Stay hydrated but do not drink excessive amounts of water

Foods to incorporate:

  • Meats: fish, oysters, mussels
  • All seeds, but especially black sesame seeds
  • Bone broth
  • Small amounts of good quality sea salt (should have some color to it)

Foods to avoid:

  • Overly salty foods, iodized salt (aka "table salt")

+ Kidney Yang Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. The Yang energy in our bodies is what keeps us warm, active, and alert.

The Kidney system acts as a foundation for many other of the organ systems in our bodies, when the Kidney system is weak it can often show up all over the body. The Kidney system governs the endocrine system, nervous system (including the brain,) skeletal system, urinary system, water metabolism, much of the immune system, and much of the reproductive system. It is by far the most widely-reaching of all the organ systems according to Chinese Medicine.

When Kidney Yang is deficient it can result in a number of different symptoms or conditions. Some of the most common systemic symptoms are feeling cold, feeling tired, poor memory, or trouble digesting food. Deficiency of Kidney Yang can directly affect the Kidney/Urinary Bladder causing copious urine, trouble controlling urine, or edema. It can affect the reproductive system, causing infertility, subfertility, diminished ovarian reserve, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count, low motility or morphology, and/or low libido. It can affect the skeletal system, causing weak or painful knees, weak or painful lower back, osteoporosis, joint disorders, or spinal disorders. It can affect the endocrine system, resulting in thyroid conditions, diabetes, or hormonal imbalances. It can affect the immune system, causing frequent illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Stay hydrated but do not drink excessive amounts of water

Foods to incorporate:

  • Meats: fish, oysters, mussels
  • All seeds, but especially black sesame seeds
  • Bone broth
  • Small amounts of good quality sea salt (should have some color to it)

Foods to avoid:

  • Overly salty foods, iodized salt (aka "table salt")

+ Kidney Yin Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. Our Yin is restored at nighttime or during calm activities (such as meditation or restorative yoga) when we can rest and recharge for the active times ahead. Sadly, in modern day life most of us don’t get enough recharge time to fully replenish our Yin.

While our Yin does naturally decline with age, that decline can get sped up by overwork, stress, poor diet, or irregular schedules. This deficiency of Yin can result in heat signs. These heat signs may be systemic, for example, hot flashes, thirst, dryness, insomnia, constipation, or irritability. They may also effect the Kidney/Urinary Bladder system directly, resulting in low back pain, frequent urination, scanty urination, burning urination, or urinary tract infections. Because the Kidney system also governs the endocrine system and much of the reproductive system, a deficiency of Kidney Yin may also cause infertility, subfertility, hormonal imbalances, premature menopausal symptoms, diminished ovarian reserve, or insufficient cervical mucus. The follicles your body produces are Yin in nature - Yin deficiency can be reflected in low follicle count, diminished ovarian reserve or chromosomal abnormalities.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Stay hydrated but do not drink excessive amounts of water

Foods to incorporate:

  • Meats: fish, oysters, mussels
  • All seeds, but especially black sesame seeds
  • Bone broth
  • Any kind of melon (you can eat daily but avoid large quantities)
  • Small amounts of good quality sea salt (should have some color to it)

Foods to avoid:

  • Overly salty foods, iodized salt (aka "table salt")

+ Liver Blood Deficiency

The Spleen is responsible for creating blood from the food we eat and the Liver is responsible for holding and cleaning (or detoxifying) the blood. If the Liver blood becomes deficient then it cannot get delivered to the parts of the body where it is needed, for example to the brain to nourish mental activity, to the nails and hair to support growth, or to the uterus to build a thick endometrial lining which is necessary for implantation to occur.

Whether the Spleen is not generating enough blood (often because the Spleen Qi is weak or diet is poor) or the body experiences a loss of blood (surgery, hemorrhage or childbirth) the Liver Blood is often the first to be deficient.

The Liver opens to the eyes, so insufficient Liver blood often causes poor vision (especially at night.) The Liver manifests in the nails and hair, so patients with Liver Blood Deficiency usually have dry, thin, or brittle nails or hair. Because the Liver stores blood that is used in the uterus we see clinically that Liver Blood Deficiency patients also usually have thin uterine linings and scanty periods.

Lifestyle recommendations:

  • Avoid stress and cultivate calm as much as possible
  • Avoid eatting to close to bedtime and get plenty of sleep (the liver holds and detoxifies blood at night around 1am-3am, if it is busy digestive food or staying awake it cannot do this as well)

Foods to incorporate:

  • Vegetables: plenty of dark leafy greens, colorful veggies (eat the rainbow)
  • Meats: grassfed beef, dark meat chicken
  • Bone broth

Foods to avoid:

  • Liver Blood Stasis


In Chinese Medicine the Liver is said to hold and clean (detoxify) the blood that is built by the Spleen, as well as to circulate Qi throughout the body. If Liver Qi Stagnation is long-standing then it may result in Liver Blood Stasis. Alternately, if Liver Blood Deficiency is long-standing, then the lack of blood in the vessels may cause the Liver Blood to become stagnant as well.

Blood stasis is a physical blockage of blood. It often causes a dusky or purplish tone (seen on the tongue, lips, or facial complexion) and often causes pain and the formation of masses as well. The Liver governs the flank area (mid-abdomen on the sides of the body) so pain in the rib-sides may be noted, often sharp and stabbing in nature. The Liver meridian also wraps around the groin area and passes through the reproductive organs, so Liver Blood Stasis may result in pain such as menstrual cramps, endometriosis, groin pain, or pain with intercourse. It may result in physical masses such as fibroids, cysts, polyps, endometriomas, or varicoceles. Female patients with Liver Blood Stasis often note dark clots in their menstrual flow. Please do not let this alarm you, some patients exhibit signs of Liver Blood Stasis without any physical symptoms of pain or masses, and we have found that using acupuncture and herbs is extremely effective for treating these conditions without invasive surgeries or strong medications which may have severe side effects.

+ Liver Fire

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. Our Yin is restored at nighttime or during calm activities (such as meditation or restorative yoga) when we can rest and recharge for the active times ahead. Sadly, in modern day life most of us don’t get enough recharge time to fully replenish our Yin.

Many of the heat symptoms observed clinically are ones of Yin Deficiency, which is also called “false heat” because it is the lack of cooling substances rather than the excess of heat. Liver Fire, however, is a case of “true heat” which is caused by excess of Liver Yang. It often begins with a deficiency of Liver Yin which is long-standing, compounded with a high stress lifestyle, irregular schedule, poor diet, and/or the excessive consumption of drugs/alcohol, which eventually develops into the pattern of Liver Fire.

Heat signs can present systemically, such as insomnia, constipation, scanty urine, fever, or irritability/anger. But with Liver Fire specifically the fire symptoms most often flare up to the head, causing headaches or migraines, red/swollen eyes, red face, bitter taste in the mouth, or ringing in the ears (tinnitus.)

+ Liver Qi Stagnation

Liver Qi Stagnation can be caused by physical stress, emotional stress, improper diet, or insufficient sleep. Because the Liver's job is to evenly circulate Qi around the body, when we are stressed it becomes more difficult for the liver to do this, and stagnation elsewhere in the body can result. Imagine an even flow of energy to the body which may look like gentle ocean waves rolling up on shore, then Liver Qi becomes stagnant the flow of energy to the body becomes larger peaks and deeper valleys, like a tsunami crashing onto shore. Liver Qi Stagnation may manifest as headaches, digestive upset, poor circulation, pain, irritability, or muscle cramps.

+ Liver Yang Rising

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. Our Yin is restored at nighttime or during calm activities (such as meditation or restorative yoga) when we can rest and recharge for the active times ahead. Sadly, in modern day life most of us don’t get enough recharge time to fully replenish our Yin.

The Yin acts as an anchor for the Yang, if there is not enough Liver Yin then the very active Liver Yang can flare up, creating heat and symptoms that affect the head. Liver Yin Deficiency always precedes Liver Yang Rising, but once the Yang rises to the head symptoms such as headaches, red or dry eyes, insomnia, red face, ringing ears, or poor night vision are all instances of Liver Yang Rising.

+ Liver Yin Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. Our Yin is restored at nighttime or during calm activities (such as meditation or restorative yoga) when we can rest and recharge for the active times ahead. Sadly, in modern day life most of us don’t get enough recharge time to fully replenish our Yin.

Because Yin is cool in nature, when the body does not have enough Yin we see heat signs arise. They are different the “true” heat signs because they are not caused by an excess of heat, but rather a deficiency of cool. Therefore, these heat signs arise at Yin times of day (hot flashes, night sweats, or insomnia at night) or on Yin parts of the body (hot sensation on the palms of their hands or soles of their feet.)

Yin is also moist in nature, so too little Yin also usually results in dryness. The dryness can be systemic, such as constipation or thirst. More often we see Liver Yin Deficiency cause dryness in the areas most influenced by the Liver, for example dry eyes because the Liver opens to the eyes, or brittle nails because the Liver manifests nails and hair.

+ Local Qi and Blood Stagnation

Qi and Blood Stagnation is the root of all pain in Chinese medicine. It means the channels are blocked so the blood and energy cannot flow as freely. This stagnation can be caused by a few different things, but most commonly it is caused by trauma, either physical or emotional. Physical trauma doesn't have to be in the form of a serious accident, it can be the result of repetitive motions or overuse. Emotional trauma that causes Qi and Blood Stagnation may be a noticeably stressful event, or can also be the result of everyday stress, anxiety, worry, or grief, it may also become noticeable long after a traumatic event, when your body is finally ready to process it.

The treatment principle for treating Qi and Blood Stagnation is to break it up. This may translate in Western terms to breaking up scar tissue, reducing inflammation, or promoting circulation. This can be done with acupuncture, herbs, massage (or other types of bodywork,) and nutrition. We notice a that a combination is most effective, especially for chronic or severe pain.

+ Lung Qi Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine the Lung system is not just responsible for breathing and the upper respiratory tract, but also the immune system and much of how we process emotions.

While Qi is often translated as “energy” I have found that “function” is a much better translation for it. Therefore, Lung Qi Deficiency, or lack of Lung function, can result in shortness of breath, chronic cough, asthma, allergies, or poor immunity.

This is often caused by an external invasion of wind (usually wind-heat or wind-cold) which attacks the exterior of the body, also known as a common cold or flu. Because the Lung is responsible for much of the immune system, depending on how aggressive the pathogen is, getting rid of it may tax the Lung system and deplete it of Qi temporarily. If the patient’s constitution is weak, it may take longer for the Lung Qi recover, we usually see this cause recurrent colds/flus or relentless allergies.

Lung Qi can also become damaged by extreme emotions or emotional trauma, especially grief, which is the emotion of the Lung system.

+ Lung Yin Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. The Yang energy in our bodies is what keeps us warm, active, and alert.

Yin also represents the fluids of the body. Being that the Lung is a moist organ that requires plenty of fluids to function properly, symptoms may become quite noticeable and bothersome when someone is experiencing Lung Yin Deficiency. One of the most common symptoms is a dry cough and/or dry throat.

This is often first caused by an external invasion of wind (usually wind-heat or wind-cold) which attacks the exterior of the body, also known as a common cold or flu. Because the Lung is responsible for much of the immune system, depending on how aggressive the pathogen is, getting rid of it may tax the Lung system and deplete it of Qi, then ultimately of Yin. If the patient’s constitution is weak before contracting the pathogen, it may take longer for the Lung system to recover.

This condition can become exasperated by additional drying external factors, such as smoke, pollution, or hot foods (spicy food, greasy food, alcohol) but it is reversible with acupuncture, herbal formulas, and diet. One of the most beneficial foods for Lung Yin Deficiency is steamed Asian pear.

+ Spleen Qi Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is the center of the digestive system. It requires enough Qi (roughly translated as energy or function) to break down the food we eat and create blood from it. If someone’s Spleen Qi is weakened (by stress, over-thinking, poor diet or trauma), it becomes very difficult for the body to process food and therefore to create blood. Symptoms of digestive upset may result, such as bloating, cramping, loose stools, constipation, nausea, or changes in appetite.

The Spleen is also responsible for providing energy to the body, especially the four limbs. If Spleen Qi is deficient then it may also cause fatigue, weakness, or muscular atrophy.

+ Spleen Qi not Holding/Sinking

In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is the center of the digestive system. It requires enough Qi (roughly translated as energy or function) to break down the food we eat and create blood from it. If someone’s Spleen Qi is weakened (by emotional stress, over thinking, or poor diet) then it becomes very difficult for the body to process food, and therefore to create blood. Symptoms of digestive upset may result, such as bloating, cramping, loose stools, constipation, or nausea.

Another responsibility of the Spleen is to hold the tissues of the body in place. When Spleen Qi is severely deficient its ability to do this is compromised. In early stages this might cause hemorrhoids or loose stools, in pregnancy it often manifests as placenta previa or may cause recurrent miscarriages. In advanced stages organ prolapse (uterus, bowel, or urinary bladder) may result.

+ Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness

In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is the center of the digestive system. It requires enough Qi (roughly translated as energy or function) to break down the food we eat and create blood from it. If someone’s Spleen Qi is weakened (by stress, over thinking, poor diet, or some people are born with congenitally weak Spleens) then it becomes very difficult for the body to process food, and therefore to create blood. Symptoms of digestive upset may result, such as bloating, cramping, loose stools, constipation, or nausea.

The longer Spleen Qi Deficiency goes on, and the less food the digestive system is able to process, eventually the body begins to create and retain dampness. From a Western perspective this dampness is usually best translated as inflammation, water retention, or candidiasis. Symptomatically it may cause bloating, gassiness, heavy feeling, fatigue, loose stools, cloudy urine, or foggy thinking.

+ Spleen Qi Deficiency with Damp-heat

In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is the center of the digestive system. It requires enough Qi (roughly translated as energy or function) to break down the food we eat and create blood from it. They internal organs are viewed as a system of 3 different “burners” or “jiaos,” the upper, middle and lower jiaos. The Spleen controls the middle jiao.

If someone’s Spleen Qi is weakened (by stress, over thinking, poor diet, or some people are born with congenitally weak Spleens) then it becomes very difficult for the body to process food, and therefore to create blood. Symptoms of digestive upset may result, such as bloating, cramping, loose stools, constipation, or nausea.

The longer Spleen Qi Deficiency goes on, and the less food the digestive system is able to process, eventually the body begins to create and retain dampness. From a Western perspective this dampness is usually best translated as inflammation, water retention, or candidiasis. Symptomatically it may cause bloating, gassiness, heavy feeling, fatigue, loose stools, cloudy urine, or foggy thinking.

Because the body is warm in nature, the longer dampness sits in the body the more it heats up and transforms into damp-heat. Damp-heat is similar to dampness but with an added component of heat. It may result in constipation, gassiness with foul smell, bad breath, heartburn, or even systemic heat symptoms such as feeling warm or excessive sweating. We can detect damp-heat in the system by a slippery pulse and/or a thick yellow tongue coat.

+ Spleen Yang Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine we always consider the balance between Yin and Yang. Yin is dark, quiet, calm, and still, while Yang is bright, loud, active, and moving. The Spleen is the center of our digestive system, in Chinese medicine we say the Spleen “transforms and transports” the food we take in and builds blood from it.

You can think of the Spleen’s job was cooking food down into a form that our body can easily grab nutrients from. An analogy I often use it to think of the digestive system as the burner on a gas stove, some people have their burners turned all the way up and can cook foods down quickly and easily, but some people have their burners turned way down, and need some help to cook down that food. Spleen Yang Deficiency is when the burner gets turned way, way down.

Common symptoms of Spleen Yang Deficiency is poor appetite, abdominal bloating (usually better when pressure is applied to the abdomen,) loose stools, nausea and fatigue. These are all signs that food is not being properly digested.

While Spleen Yang Deficiency responds well to acupuncture and herbal formulas, dietary and lifestyle changes must still be made. It helps to give the body a leg up on digestion by starting with cooked and warm food, which takes less work for the body to process. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, as well as processed foods and greasy/heavy foods, all of which strain the digestive system. Choose instead cooked vegetables, broths/soups/stews, porridge, and small amounts of quality animal products. Avoid very cold food and beverages, such as ice water or ice cream, that extreme cold temperature extinguishes the fire of the burner.