TCM Organ and Organ Imbalances

In TCM, the concept of “organs” or Zang Fu is slightly different from that of the biomedical perspective. TCM organs are not just physical parts of a body, but functional organ systems that can house imbalances, interact with each other, and signal an illness’ root cause. These organ systems are based on the harmonious relationships between Yin and Yang organs. At the center of these relationships are the interior and exterior organ pairs, which states the interior belongs to yin and the exterior belongs to Yang. Therefore, Yin organs are thought to have more internal functions and in contrast, the Yang organs are believed to have more external functions and are considered exterior organs.


Here is a very, very, very brief and simplified introduction to the organs and their patterns of imbalance!

This is not meant for you to diagnose any illnesses on your own, as it takes a lot more to make an accurate diagnosis and a licensed practitioner. It is for you to have a general idea about what could potentially affect organ function and what imbalances you might be prone to.

We want to guide you to think about organs in a holistic way, instead of compartmentalizing them.

We suggest you compare your findings from this page with your Body Constitution Result.


Six Fu Organs

Gallbladder | Stomach | Large Intestine | Small Intestine | Bladder | Triple Burner

Fu Organs


Fu organs are categorized as Yang and hollow. The common function of the six Fu-organs is "to transport and transform food." They receive and digest food, absorbing the nutrients and discharging the waste. The common imbalance among these organs is excess, rather than deficiency. Purgation is usually the suitable therapeutic approach.



  • Closely related to: Liver, judgment, courage, sinews (tendons), Spring season

  • Role in TCM:

  • Affected by:

    • Diet: excessive consumption of greasy and fatty foods leads to the formation of Dampness which can lodge in the Gallbladder

    • Emotions: Anger, frustration and bottled-up resentment can cause stagnation of Liver Qi which, in turn, can produce Heat which affects the Gallbladder. Symptoms of irritability, bitter taste, thirst, headaches, gallstones, etc, may arise

    • Dampness

  • Major imbalance patterns:

    • Damp Heat in the Gallbladder (Excess Pattern): Hypochondriac/rib-side pain and distention, nausea, vomiting, inability to digest fats well, yellow-toned complexion, scanty, dark yellow urine, bitter taste, fever, yellow coating on the tongue, gallstones

    • Gallbladder Deficiency: Dizziness, blurred vision, nervous, timid, lack of courage and initiative



  • Closely related to: Spleen, Liver, Late Summer, digestion, fluids, mouth/tongue, worry

  • Affected by:

    • Diet: Excessive consumption of foods that are too cold, too hot or too dry (learn about food energetics here), irregular eating time, long-term food consumption at 7-9pm (when Stomach has the least amount of energy), overeating, eating too fast, eating with negative emotions or while absent minded (ex. reading, watching TV, browsing instagram), under-eating for extreme weight loss

    • Emotions: excessive thinking and worry, long-term excessive mental activity, anger and frustration

  • Major imbalance patterns:

    • Food Accumulation in the Stomach (over eating or eating at improper times): Fullness/distention of stomach area, bloating, feeling of indigestion, sour regurgitation, belching, bad breath, insomnia, uneasy/tired after eating, worrying

    • Cold Invasion of the Stomach: Severe epigastric/abdominal pain with vomiting, no appetite, cold limbs, fatigue

    • Stomach Fire: Burning sensation/pain in epigastric area, sour regurgitation, bad breath, crave for cold drinks, constipation, constant hunger, bleeding/swelling/painful gum, red tongue

    • Stomach Yin Deficiency: Epigastric pain, easily full after eating (low appetite), dry mouth, dry stool, fever or feeling warm in afternoons/evenings, red and peeled tongue

    • Stomach Qi Deficiency: Epigastric discomfort, mild stomachache, lack of taste/appetite, loose stools, fatigue especially in the mornings, weak limbs

    • Rebellious Stomach Qi: Nausea, belching, hiccup, vomiting


Large Intestine

  • Closely related to: Lung, Autumn, Metal element, elimination, absorption of fluids, sadness, worry

  • Affected by:

    • Diet: Excessive consumption of Cold and raw food, excessive greasy and Hot foods

    • Emotions: Worry causes Lung Qi to become deficient and it fails to descend, which contributes to stagnation of Qi in Large Intestine (abdominal pain and constipation)

  • Major imbalance patterns:

    • Cold in Large Intestine: loose stools, gas, pale urine, cold limbs, dull abdominal pain

    • Damp-Heat in Large Intestine: Abdominal pain, diarrhea, mucus/blood in stool, foul stool, scanty and dark urine, fever/sweating, thirst, heaviness in body

    • Dryness and Heat in Large Intestine: constipation, burning sensation in mouth and/or anus, scanty and dark urine, dry throat, thirst


Small Intestine

  • Closely related to: Spleen, Kidney, Heart, Fire element, nutrient absorption (learn about food energetics here!)

  • Affected by:

    • Diet: Excess Cold/raw food or excess Hot/spicy foods

    • Emotions: anger

  • Major imbalance patterns:

    • Excess Heat in Small Intestine: abdominal pain, tongue ulcers, scanty/painful/bloody urine, insomnia, mental restlessness, throat discomfort, sudden hearing loss

    • Small Intestine Qi Stagnation: Distention and twisting pain in the lower abdomen that may radiate to the lower back, gas, testicular pain, appendicitis/violent abdominal pain (acute Qi obstruction)



  • Closely related to: Kidney, Winter, Water element, transformation and excretion of fluids, dampness

  • Affected by:

    • Diet: not a significant factor

    • Emotions: fear

  • Major imbalance patterns:

    • Damp-Heat in the Bladder: frequent/ urgent/ difficult urination with pain or burning sensation, dark yellow, or cloudy urination, stones in urine, fever, thirst
    • Damp-Cold in the Bladder: frequent/ urgent/ difficult urination, pale cloudy urine, heaviness in lower abdomen
    • Bladder Deficiency: Frequent/ pale/ long urination, incontinence, lower back pain/soreness, exposure to cold environment


    Triple Burner (San Jiao / Triple Heater)

    • Distinct from other Zang-Fu organs, Triple Burner is not viewed as an organ and therefore has no actual patterns. Patterns of the Triple Burner are recognized by the same patterns that affect the organs contained therein:

      • Patterns of the Lung and Heart are the patterns of the Upper Burner (Upper Jiao)

      • Patterns of the Spleen and Stomach are those of the Middle Burner (Middle Jiao)

      • Patterns of the Lower Burner (Lower Jiao) are those of the Kidney, Bladder, Small and Large Intestines



    Five Zang Organs

    Liver | Heart | Spleen | Lung | Kidney

    Zang Organs


    Zang organs are Yin and are solid. They are respectively the “more important” organs to learn about, due to their abilities "to store essence" obtained from food, life, and environment. The common imbalance among these organs is deficiency, rather than excess. Tonifying or strengthening is usually the suitable therapeutic approach.



    • Closely related to: eyes, nails, Spring, blood, anger, women’s health

    • Affected by:

      • Diet: Excessive greasy and hot foods (lamb, beef, curry, alcohol…) can cause Liver Fire. Not enough warming foods, such as whole-grains, can contribute to inadequate Blood production and Blood Deficiency that can lead to Liver Blood Deficiency

      • Emotions: anger, repressed emotions, etc. affect the Liver and disrupt the smooth flow of Qi in the body. Over a long period of time, Liver Qi stagnation impairs circulation of Qi and can cause emotional states of constant low-level anger, depression, and resentment

    • Major imbalance patterns:

      • Liver Qi Stagnation: Distention and pain in the chest, frequent sighing, depression, moodiness, melancholy, and a general tense feeling, sensation of a lump in the throat with trouble swallowing, nausea, vomiting, irregular menstruation, dysmenorrhea, premenstrual breast tenderness, PMS
      • Liver Blood Stagnation: Fixed and stabbing abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, irregular periods, dark and clotted menstrual blood, vomiting of Blood, purple tongue color
      • Liver Fire: Red face and eyes, irritability, angry outbursts, tinnitus, deafness, headache, bitter taste, constipation, dark yellow urine, thirst,  hemoptysis, hematemesis
      • Liver Yang Rising: Headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, sudden deafness, dry mouth and throat, insomnia, irritability, shouting in anger, stress
      • Liver Blood Deficiency: Blurred vision and floaters in the eyes, dull pale face, dizziness, pale lips, numbness of the limbs, muscular weakness and spasms, brittle nails, scanty menstruation and amenorrhea



    • Closely related to: Summer, Lung, Fire element, Blood

    • Affected by:

      • Diet: Excess hot foods can contribute to heart fire; calming foods are very idea for the Heart

      • Emotions: Sadness and anger

    • Major imbalance patterns:

      • Heart Qi Deficiency: Palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweating, pale face, sensation of cold (only if yang deficiency is present as well)

      • Heart Blood Deficiency: Palpitations (more pronounced in the evening), insomnia, poor memory, anxiety, dream disturbed sleep, easily startled, dull pale complexion, pale lips, dizziness, sensation of heat (only if yin deficiency is present as well)

      • Heart Fire: palpitations, mental restlessness, agitation, impulsiveness, insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, bloody/dark urine, bitter taste in the mouth, thirst, heat sensation

      • Heart Blood Stagnation: Palpitations, pain in the chest and Heart region, which may radiate down inner left arm, constriction and/or discomfort in the chest, cyanosis of lips and nails, cold hands



    • Closely related to: Stomach, Earth element, Late Summer, digestions, transformation of water/liquid

    • Affected by:

      • Diet is the main factor. Spleen likes foods that are warm in energetics & in temperature (learn about food energetics here). Excessive consumption of cold foods will impair Spleen function and cause interior Dampness & digestive problems. Eating in a hurry, when stressed or upset, skipping meals and eating poor quality food all significantly weaken Spleen Qi.
      • Emotions: Excessive thinking, studying, concentrating, brooding, obsessing
      • Dampness
    • Major imbalance patterns:

      • Spleen Qi Deficiency: No appetite, abdominal distention after eating, fatigue, weakness of limbs, loose stool, chills/cold limbs (when Yang deficiency is also present)
      • Spleen Qi Sinking: all Spleen Qi Deficiency symptoms plus prolapse of uterus, anus, stomach, and/or vagina
      • Damp Cold Invading the Spleen: No appetite, stuffy chest, cold feeling in abdomen, heavy feeling in head/limbs, no taste/sweet taste, thin stool, white vaginal discharge, diarrhea, edema
      • Damp Heat Invading the Spleen: No appetite, feeling of heaviness, distention of abdomen, thirst without desire to drink or desire to drink small sips, abdominal pain, stool with offensive odor, burning sensation of anus, scanty, dark urine, headache, sticky yellow coating on the tongue 



    • Closely related to: Metal Element, Autumn, respiratory health, skin/hair, external pathogens (wind, cold, heat), Spleen, phlegm

    • Affected by:

        • Diet: Excessive consumption of Cold and raw (salads, dairy, etc.) foods decreases the Spleen's ability to transform and transport nutrients to cause Phlegm accumulation, which affects the Lungs (“the container for Phlegm”)
        • Emotions: Sadness, worrying, laziness.
        • Dryness, Wind, Cold, Heat
      1. Major imbalance patterns:
        • Lung Qi Deficiency: Weak breathing, shortness of breath on exertion, coughing, thin/watery sputum, weak voice, lack of desire to speak, spontaneous sweating, pale complexion, aversion to cold, weak immunity
        • Lung Dryness: Dry cough, dry mouth/throat, hoarse voice
        • Lung Yin Deficiency: Lung Dryness symptoms plus sticky/bloody sputum, heat sensation, insomnia, night sweats
        • Wind-Cold Invasion: Fever, aversion to cold, headache, body aches, sneezing, stuffy nose, clear mucus, itching throat
        • Wind-Heat Invasion: Similar to Wind-Cold Invasion symptoms but with swollen tonsils, thirst, yellow mucus
        • Damp-Phlegm In the Lungs: Chronic cough with acute attacks, profuse white phlegm, pale complexion, chest stuffiness, dyspnea, symptoms are worse lying down
        • Phlegm-Heat In the Lungs: cough, profuse yellow/green/brownish sputum, shortness of breath, asthma, chest stiffness, often seen in smokers



      • Closely related to: Water Element, Winter, Gallbladder, fear, bones, development, sexual function, ears, lower back

      • Affected by:

        • Diet: irregular eating habits, junk food

        • Emotions: fear, anxiety, shock, mental overwork, worry

        • Heredity, natural aging, excessive sexual activity, chronic diseases

      • Major imbalance patterns

        • Kidney Jing Deficiency: Developmental problems, mental retardation, poor memory, premature aging, dental and teeth problems, premature hair loss, weak knees, brittle bones, low sex drive, infertility

        • Kidney Yang Deficiency: Aversion to cold, cold limbs, pale complexity, lethargy, weak knees, low sex driver, infertility, loose teeth, deafness, loose stool, shortness of breath

        • Kidney Yin Deficiency: hot palms/soles, malar flush, red cheeks, night sweats, constipation, dark urine, thirst, soreness of knees and lower back, tinnitus, poor memory, sexual dysfunction (nocturnal emission, premature ejaculation).



      Written by Five Seasons TCM
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