Tongue inspection in TCM: Observations in a study sample of patients living with HIV

Joyce K. Anastasi, Michelle Chang, Jessica Quinn, Bernadette Capili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: One of the principal diagnostic methods in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the inspection of the tongue. This method involves examination of the shape, size, color, and texture of the tongue body and coat and helps reveal the state of organ functions and progression of conditions. Literature on tongue observations for patients who have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is minimal. Objective: The goal of this study was to provide a clinical "snapshot" of initial tongue assessments of 159 patients living with HIV, who participated in an acupuncture clinical trial for chronic nausea. The aim was to explore the similarities and differences observed in tongue assessments. Design: This study was part of a prospective, randomized, controlled, double-blinded (subjects and evaluators), parallel-groups, acupuncture clinical trial for treating chronic nausea. Setting: The study was conducted at a large urban New York City academic health center. Patients: The patients in this study were 159 individuals who had HIV infections and who had histories of chronic nausea for ≥3 months. Main Outcome Measures: Initial tongue assessments were recorded for seven basic characteristics: (1) tongue color; (2) tongue shape; (3) tongue body quality; (4) coat color; (5) coat weight; (6) coat surface; and (7) tongue action. Results: The overall tongue picture seen in these patients was that the tongue was swollen and toothmarked, had a pink body with cracks, and had a thick, dry white coat. Conclusions: The HIV disease itself and the use of long term medications affect the Blood, Qi, Yin, and Yang. The observation of the tongue provides a window into the process of the disease and, ultimately, insight for clinical care. This sample population snapshot illustrates the complex processes seen in long-term chronic conditions managed by pharmacologic medications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-22
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Acupuncture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014


  • Acupuncture
  • HIV
  • Tongue
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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