Further Discussion of the Six Stages of Disease

Previously, I discussed how the scholar / physician Zhang Zhong Jing developed the theory of how diseases attack the body in stages. He developed this theory nearly 2,000 years ago, after the majority of his family members perished in an epidemic. The diagnostic and treatment methods of the six stages of disease are still used effectively in modern times, and it has been very useful in treating the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Another theory that elaborated on this concept is the four-level theory of disease, which was developed later by Ye Tianshi. This model is commonly used to treat illnesses that start with febrile symptoms. It is effectively used to treat contagious febrile diseases, as well as dermatological disorders like eczema and psoriasis. Both the six-stage and four-level theories can be used when symptoms are just beginning to occur. If applied quickly and accurately, colds and flu can often be prevented from penetrating into the deeper levels or stages. When that occurs, a different set of strategies must be used.

Traditional Chinese medicine has many different treatment methods, depending on the diagnosis. One of these principles is used when a disease penetrates to the deeper levels. As discussed in the previous post, tonification with herbs like astragalus or ginseng can be used by a healthy individual to support or enhance the natural functions and structures of the body, especially the natural immune response. If the pathogen is especially strong, as in the novel coronavirus, this is known as an epidemic pathogen in Chinese medicine. This means that it is very likely to infect someone with an impaired or weak immune system, but it is also likely to infect a large percentage of people with a strong immune system. In that case, we will see symptoms of a cold or flu beginning to occur. The previous post discussed some of the symptoms and treatment methods for the early signs and symptoms of an attack at the superficial levels or stages. I will now discuss the methods for treating one of the deeper stages or levels.

The superficial stages and levels of contagious diseases have symptoms of chills and an aversion to cold that are difficult to relieve with warm clothes or blankets. The patient may also feel somewhat feverish. There may be body aches, especially in the shoulders, neck and back of the head. There can be nasal congestion or sinus pressure. If there is mucus, it will be clear. There can also be a sore throat, earache, slight dry cough, red eyes, and thirst. If these symptoms begin to recede, and a deep cough begins to develop, the illness is considered to have completely penetrated the body’s defenses and is now in the interior. Once the pathogen is in the interior, completely different treatment methods are required.

To give an example, the tonification method is like building a strong wall around a city and reinforcing it when there is an attack. If the attack at the gates is particularly fierce, the gates begin to fail, and a ferocious battle occurs at the gates. This is like the earliest stage of a contagious disease. The herbs that are used in this case have the effect of pushing the attackers away from the city. The symptoms of fever and chills are signs that the battle is occurring. If the defense is successful, the invaders are driven away, and the gates to the city can be repaired and reinforced. This is when the tonification method can be used again to restore the body’s vitality and immune response. However, if the battle at the gates is lost, and the invaders enter the city, it is a hopeless endeavor to try to reinforce the gates or push out the invaders. They have already entered the city. In this case, the treatment must defeat the invaders from inside the body. There are literally hundreds of herbal formulas to treat these interior stages of illness.

In the interior stages or levels, formulas are designed to do battle in the interior of the body. These are a few examples of the possible patterns when the invader penetrates to the interior, especially when the lungs are affected:

Lung Heat: Loud barking cough, chest pain

Phlegm Heat: Sticky yellow phlegm, oppression of the chest, nausea, red face, dry mouth, restlessness

Phlegm Cold: White watery phlegm, a feeling of oppression of the chest, nausea

Qi Level Heat: Symptoms of the “four greats,” such as high fever, great thirst, great sweating, forceful pulse

Many formulas can address these patterns effectively:

For Lung Heat: Qing Fei Tang (Clear the Lungs Decoction)

For Phlegm Heat with Dryness: Bei Mu Gua Lou San (Fritillaria and Trichosanthes Fruit Powder)

For Phlegm Cold: San Zi Yang Qin Tang (Three-Seed Decoction to Nourish One’s Parents Decoction)

For Qi Level Heat: Bai Hu Tang (White Tiger Decoction)

Currently, many Chinese medicine practitioners in the West have been treating serious lung conditions since at least as far back as February 2020. I have treated a number of cases with telemedicine where the person had difficulty breathing and chest pain, but they were fortunately not sick enough to go to the emergency room. In the 16 months since then, I have successfully treated a number of cases of confirmed coronavirus, as well as cases that had all the symptoms but weren’t able to confirm the diagnosis. In all cases, I monitored the patients regularly, and I advised them to seek emergency care if their symptoms worsened. Fortunately, these cases responded well to herbs.

CAUTION: Please do not try to self-treat with herbal medicine, nor should you consider this information to be a guideline for self-treatment. COVID-19 has killed over half a million Americans as of the date of this post. Find an experienced practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine in your area, and let them apply the proper diagnostic and treatment methods. If you experience severe symptoms, do not hesitate to seek emergency medical help. While herbal medicine has proved to be exceptionally helpful, the more severe forms of this disease require emergency medical intervention. If in doubt, call 911. A skilled practitioner will also know when to NOT attempt herbal treatment and when to refer a person for emergency medical care.