The External Causes Of Disease - A Chinese Physician's Perspective

Chinese Physicians investigate both the internal and external causes of disease during their diagnosis. The "six evils" commonly blamed for superficial illnesses in Chinese medicine are:

  • Wind,
  • Heat,
  • Summer Heat or Fire,
  • Cold,
  • Dryness and
  • Dampness.

Wind, Heat, Fire, and Dryness are all considered to be yang evils, while Cold and Damp are yin evils.

The Six Evils ... External Causes Of Disease ...

The six evils create characteristic symptoms - fevers and chills, for example, from Hot and Cold, or a shifting pattern of pain related to Wind. An attack of Dampness - characterized by symptoms like runny catarrh or edema - can develop into the more serious "Phlegm" regarded as an internal factor, while Summer Meat is more commonly associated with tropical fevers than the chills of colder Northern climes.

A cold spring is regarded by Chinese physicians as a sure sign that there will be an excess of Cold-related disorders. Elderly Chinese people still persist in wearing hats or heads,carves whenever out of doors to prevent an attack by Damp, which is traditionally regarded as especially likely to attack the head.

Other External Causes Of Disease

  • Epidemic evils - the sort of serious infections and plagues that are now a rarity, thanks to better public hygiene and heath care.
  • Improper diet - regarded as a common cause of disease, since food is the source of much of our energy. Too much or too little food, irregular meal times, poor quality or polluted food will all lead to weakness and disharmony.
  • Fatigue - which is seen as consuming Qi, and therefore weakens the body still further.
  • Inactivity and too much leisure - the Chinese believe that iriactivity will slow down the Qi and Blood circulation, leading to stagnation find dysfunction of Spleen and Stomach.
  • Sexual indulgence - too much sex is seen as another external cause of ill health. Sexual activity is believed to deplete Jing and will lead to typical symptoms of Kidney deficiency, such as back pain and dizziness. The body is also believed to be especially prone to attack by the external evils during sexual intercourse, as the "body is open," so keeping warm and comfortable at this time is believed to be essential. Similarly, overfrequent childbirth is regarded as a possible cause of ill health in women, as it will deplete the Kidney essence.
  • Traumas and accidents also come into the "external causes" category, and generally lead to direct damage to Blood or Qi.
  • Insect and animal bites form the final category of exogenous disease factors - again, a problem that would be more significant in a semi-tropical world, where snakes and rabid dogs were common place, than in more sheltered environments.

External causes like these are regarded as more likely causes of illness in children or of "superficial" problems such as common colds or disorders like food poisoning which we now know to blame on bacteria or parasites. Adults are more likely to suffer from illness as a result of internal causes.


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