Dyspnoea or breathlessness, called Chuan in Chinese medicine, is a general term which means ‘panting’. As such, Chuan relates to difficulties breathing, breathing with an open mouth, lifitng of the shoulders while breathing and an inability to lie down. These can be either acute or chronic.

In Western medicine, there are a number of different causes. With the exception of anaemia, they all relate to either the lungs or the heart. Dyspnoea can arise from a disease of the lungs or from a heart disease which affects the lungs.

Common Causes of Dyspnoea

  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Bronchial Carcinoma
  • Pneumonitis
  • Left Ventricle Failure

In Chinese medicine, the broad causes of dyspnoea are classified by the following aetiology:

  • External pathogenic factors: Wind-Cold or Wind-Heat are important here, along with Phlegm
  • Irregular diet impairing Spleen function, leading to Damp and Phlegm formation which obstructs the Lungs
  • Emotional problems such as excess worry or pensiveness depleting Lung- and Spleen-Qi leading to Damp and Phelgm
  • Overwork and Chronic Illness – These can deplete both Kidney-Yin and Kidney-Yang, whereas a chronic deficiency of Lung-Qi or Lung-Yin can lead to breathlessness

Treating Dyspnoea with Chinese Medicine

In order to effectively treat this condition, it is important for TCM practitioners to reach a differential diagnosis and identify the underlying pathological pattern. This can either be Excess (full) or Deficient (empty).

Full patterns include:

  • Wind-Cold invading the Lungs
  • Exterior Wind-Cold with internal Phlegm
  • Phlegm-Heat in the LungsObstruction of Lung-Qi
  • Liver-Fire invading the Lungs

Empty patterns include:

  • Lung-Qi deficiency
  • Lung-Yin deficiency
  • Lung and Kidney deficiency

Chinese medicine practitioners will usually treat patients with a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for the most effective approach. The exact nature of treatment will vary depending upon the diagnosis. As part of the overall treatment strategy, the practitioner may also provide dietary advice to aid the patients’ recovery. Some commonly used formulas include Ma Huang Tang, Er Chen Tang, Bu Fei Tang and Sheng Mai San.

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