The functions of the heart in Chinese medicine

In the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, the heart controls blood and vessels, and governs mental activities.

Controlling blood and vessels

The heart controls blood and vessels. The heart impulses blood to circulate and carry nutritive substances to every part of the whole body. The motive power of the heart is heart-Qi. The heart can control the dilating and constricting of vessels for keeping the normal circulation of blood. The process of nutritive substances, Qi and body fluid being converted into blood needs the participation of the heart.

The formation of sweat is also related to the heart. Body fluid is the source of sweat. Body fluid and blood nourish each other. So there is a word “Sweat and blood have the same source”. If blood is deficient, body fluid will be lacking, and then the formation of sweat will be reduced. If perspiring is in excess, the body fluid will be seriously lost, and the blood of the heart will be much reduced too, so the heart will palpitate and the person will feel panicky. Reciprocally, if a person is excessively nervous or feels terrified, the heart won’t regulate normally the formation and excretion of sweat, and then the body will perspire very much.

The difference of heart-Qi and heart-Yang is that, heart-Qi focuses on propelling and regulating, while heart-Yang focuses on warming. In the case of the heavy loss of heart-Qi and heart-Yang, blood can’t be impulsed by the heart, and the excretion of sweat loses control. The person will suffer from shock with a pallid face and he is damp with cold sweat.

Governing mental activities

In traditional Chinese medicine, mental activities and emotions are related to five internal organs. The heart is called the monarch of organs, which governs the activities of internal organs as well as mental activities. This is why the heart is also called the house of spirit.

In addtion, blood nourishes mental activities. If blood is deficient, the spirit can’t be nourished, and it may cause the disorders of sleep or mental activities.
The feeling of joy is related to the heart. When heart-Qi is ample, the heart works well, and the person feels delighted and optimistic. But if heart-Qi is lacking, the person will have an emotional slump and feel languid.

Heart-Yin makes the heart calm. If heart-Yin is deficient, the person will suffer from palpitation, vexation and insomnia.

The deficiency of heart-Yang may cause a person to be dispirited or in a trance.

Knowing the status of the heart from the face and the tongue

Because the heart controls blood and vessels, the status of the heart can be showed via the appearance of the face and the tongue.

A healthy person has a ruddy complexion and the color of his tongue is also ruddy. An anemic patient has a pallid look and the color of his tongue is also pallid and a little thin.

If the vessels are not unobstructed, the blood will be stagnated, and then the face will be somber, and the tongue may be a little bluish and purplish with petechiae.

In the theory of five elements, the heart is classified as fire. If the heart fire is excessive, it may cause excitability, irritability and insomnia, the face will be very red, and the tongue even has small ulcers.

If the heart can’t keep mental activity well, the person may suffer from a stiff tongue, slurred speech or even aphasia.

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