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The Tongue as a Diagnostic Tool

In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that the appearance of your tongue is a reflection of your health and can be a powerful diagnostic tool. Tongue diagnosis is a very traditional and effective method, which has been used to diagnose diseases for over two thousand years. Knowledge of tongue diagnosis is one of the unique treasures of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


In Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine the tongue is divided into five different areas. Each area represents the current state of health of its designated organ and organ system.

The first area is the front portion of the tongue, which is related to the organs of the chest – the Heart and Lungs.

The second area is the tongue center, representing the health of the Spleen & Stomach, which equates to the digestive system in Western Medicine.

The third & fourth areas are the sides of the tongue, which pertain to the state of the Liver on the left and the Gall Bladder on the right.

The fifth area the rear of the tongue shows the current health of the Kidneys, Bladder, and Intestines.

What is Tongue Diagnosis?

What Are We Looking For?

When we inspect a patient’s tongue, we are assessing 6 major qualities:
  1. The overall color(s) of the tongue body 

  2. The shape and size of the tongue body 

  3. The thickness and distribution of the tongue coating 

  4. The color of the tongue coating 

  5. The moisture of the tongue 

  6. The appearance and color of papules on tongue body 

Tongue with organ overlay

The appearance of the tongue is constantly in flux, and often reflects a number of factors such as: types of foods eaten that day, quality and amount of sleep, emotional state, current health conditions, and the time of the month for women.

A person in good health should exhibit a tongue that is supple with a slightly moist pale red body and a thin white coating. Changes in health may reflect in the tongue. For example, a person suffering from adrenal fatigue with insomnia may present with a tongue that has a peeled or a lack of coating, a red and dry tongue body and a very red tip.

While a person with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have a tongue that is quite pink and pale, with indentations along the side borders of the tongue and a thin to thick white or yellow coating.


[Maciocia, Giovanni, Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine (Eastland Press, 7th Ed, 2004)]

The Tongue is Constantly Changing

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