An Overview of Qi Deficiency

Traditional Chinese Medicine Pattern of Illness

Qi deficiency

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Qi is a concept within traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) defined as the force or energy that binds everything—from your organs to your computer to food, air, water, and emotions—together in the universe. If you have a qi deficiency, there is a loss of this force or energy within your body, which is believed to cause both physical and psychological symptoms.

These symptoms are highly variable, but may include fatigue, spontaneous sweating, depression, a weak heartbeat, and a swollen tongue. A TCM practitioner can diagnose qi deficiency and recommend personally-tailored treatment that entails holistic practices, like acupuncture or tai chi, and/or taking one or more herbal products.


There are many potential causes of a qi deficiency, such as:

  • Boredom and/or lack of mental stimulation
  • Lack of relationships and love
  • Lack of physical necessities (e.g., food, water, clean air, and warmth)
  • Excessive emotional states (e.g., sorrow or fear)
  • Certain health condition illnesses, such as cancer or endometriosis

In addition, research suggests that specific factors—aging, chronic stress, and frequently getting sick—may increase a person's risk of developing qi deficiency. 


One study reported fatigue, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweating, swollen tongue with teeth marks on the side, and a deficient or weak pulse as the main signs and symptoms of qi deficiency.

Another study of patients with advanced cancer reported the following "cancer-related" symptoms as manifestations of a qi deficiency:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation
  • Pressure sores
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep problems

There are likely many potential symptoms of a qi deficiency, which occur as a result of the body not having enough energy or power to function properly.


There is some debate among TCM experts about how exactly to diagnose a qi deficiency.

Most practitioners use a multi-step process that includes analyzing a person's symptoms and risk factors, differentiating qi deficiency from other disorders, and identifying the possible location of the qi deficiency.

During this diagnostic process, TCM practitioners will perform a thorough medical history and physical examination, which often includes examining the tongue and checking your pulse.


Within the realm of TCM, the treatment of qi deficiency may include the use of herbal products, as well as various mind-body therapies (e.g., acupuncture or tai chi). Emotional care through counseling or psychotherapy is also important in the treatment of qi deficiency.

For specific health conditions, like cancer, the purpose of these holistic therapies (along with modern medicine therapies) is to ease symptoms like pain and fatigue, extend survival (if possible), and improve a person's quality of life.

A Word From Verywell

Qi deficiency is a complex, fascinating phenomenon within TCM. That said, since symptoms of qi deficiency may mimic those of other medical conditions, it's important to see your doctor if you have any health concerns. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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  1. Ling Y. Traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of symptoms in patients with advanced cancer. Annals of Palliative Medicine. 2013 Jul;2(3):141-52. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2224-5820.2013.04.05

  2. Chiang HC, Chang HH, Huang PY, Hsu M. On the qi deficiency in traditional Chinese medicine. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Sep;53(3):317-23. doi: 10.1016/j.tjog.2013.06.013

  3. Zhang Y et al. Symptom characteristics and prevalence of qi deficiency syndrome in people of varied health status and ages: A multicenter cross-sectional study. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences. 2(3), 173-82.

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