Tales from the Practice of Medicine: The Appearance of the Tongue

Dr. Li Defu

PureInsight | January 27, 2003

[PureInsight.org] The appearance of the tongue is a very important thing to examine in Chinese medicine. How the tongue looks provides valuable information about the state of an illness and its prognosis, and helps to determine the method for treatment. Even before whole body's symptoms become obvious, the appearance of the tongue will always display, to a certain degree, the problems to come.

For illnesses of internal organs, if the Yin is somewhat weak, the tongue is red and dry, and also looks small. If the Yang is weak, the tongue is pale, with a thin coating and wet, and the tongue swells and is soft. For patients with weak Yin, their tongues are white with a bit of gray, even dark color, with a thin coating and wet. These features appear most likely in those who suffer from problems of the digestive system and those who caught cold or were subject to heat exposure. If the coating is yellow, it signifies "internal heat;" if the coating is even thicker, it signifies dyspepsia. Briefly, the coating on the tongue in healthy people and in patients is very different.

One day, a young man came to see me. He said he was uncomfortable all over his body, with a bad appetite and diarrhea. He told me that he had visited a doctor of western medicine who did not find any problem but told him to visit a doctor of Chinese medicine as a precaution. I saw that he was in pain, with brows knitted. I asked him to show me his tongue. I saw a normal colored tongue with healthy features, coating and size.

Upon seeing this, I knew something was amiss. I started to ask questions more carefully. His story was not consistent. Finally, he admitted that he was lying and simply wanted to a doctor's note so he could go mountain climbing with friends [instead of working]. I told him that he should not lie this way. I asked him to examine his behavior carefully and reminded him to be honest.

Once I saw another patient. His saliva was completely non-existent; his functioning power and energy were all gone. The color of the tongue was dark red and dry, without any coating. His pulse was also weak. Those are the characteristics of an aids patient in the final stage. He was about to die. I shook my head and told him not to come again. His soul is about to leave.

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