Today we will have a brief introduction to tongue diagnosis and how it is an important part of your Chinese Medicine consultation. Much like how a Chinese Medicine practitioner would check pulse, the observation of the tongue is done as it is a reflection of your inner organs with the overall condition reflected and represented on different parts of the tongue; in short, the tongue is a microsystem.
If you observe the diagram below, you can see how each part of the tongue represents a specific organ or group of organs. Liver and gallbladder are paired as are the kidneys and bladder or spleen and stomach as anatomically they are linked (gallbladder is under the liver) or they share a function (kidney and bladder manage filtration, spleen and stomach deal with digestion).
The tip of the tongue reflects the heart with the lung being positioned behind followed by the spleen and stomach in the middle, liver and gallbladder to the sides and kidney, bladder and intestines at the back.
Upon observing the tongue, a practitioner will take note of the shape, the size (thickness), the colour and the coat primarily as any number of combinations can lead to a different diagnosis.
Though it takes a life time to master, it is a relatively simple technique to learn. Look at your own tongue in the mirror and see if you notice any of the following:
Heart position is red or very red: Do you have a lot on your mind that is not being resolved or do you suffer from insomnia?
Liver/Gallbladder position is bright red: are you overly stressed or irritable?
Tongue coat is yellow: do you have a sore throat, the flu or do you constantly feel hot?
Tongue body is swollen: do you feel sluggish or have digestive troubles?
Tongue body is pale in colour: do you often feel exhausted or sleepy?
The list is much more extensive than what is listed above. A good practitioner will combine the information gathered from the tongue, pulse, questioning and observation (some like to listen and smell too) to come up with a differential diagnosis to best address your issues.
A point of frustration for many students is that a tongue can present with several different features all at the same time and it is up to them to discern what is happening within the body while also eliminating artificial factors.
As a patient, please try to avoid eating or drinking foods that may stain your tongue coat prior to a consultation. Things such as coffee or confectionary can change the colour of the tongue dramatically. Also please do not scrape your tongue prior to a consultation as the tongue coat is an indicator of pathogenic involvement and also the state of fluid in your body.
In conclusion, the tongue is considered a mircosystem in Chinese Medicine which reflects the state of the internal organs on specific positions. Combining this with other forms of information gathering will allow an experienced practitioner to create and cater a treatment best suited to your health issues. As always ensure your practitioner is fully qualified and registered as to maximise your therapeutic outcome and keep you safe.