Blood stagnation is different to the organ ‘system imbalances’ as this is a substance imbalance that can affect both single or multiple areas and relates to a change in the property of blood that alters its vitality and function. The functions of Blood in Chinese medicine are a bit different to western medicine and include providing nourishment (and moisture) to all tissues, and it’s said to ’embrace the Spirit’ and provides a safe space for it to ‘reside’.
If blood doesn’t move smoothly it can affect the supply of nutrients and nourishment to tissues, including the sex organs, and impair the growth of sperm, eggs, follicles and the womb lining. Changes in the flow of blood can come from either external or internal causes:
- A simple trauma can break blood vessels and block the normal flow of blood and change the nature of the tissues concerned. Asherman’s syndrome is an example where scarring of the womb lining (usually from D&C procedures) directly reduces fertility
- Blood can stagnate from internal dynamics that slow down or stop its flow. This includes things like chronic stress that causes Qi stagnation and can alter the immune state, or conditions such as diabetes where the movement of blood is weaker, the circulation slows and blood then accumulates and binds
For men Blood stagnation can affect their ability to obtain and maintain an erection, and varicoceles are a common blood stagnation issue that cause raised testicular temperatures and reduced sperm quality. For women, blood stagnation often changes the character of their periods and the rhythms of their cycles, which tend to become irregular, and the period may stop and start with dark or purplish blood, clots and period pains.
Blood is really central to the health of menstrual cycles as it’s the material basis for much of what goes on in the uterus, which is itself a branch of the Chong Mai (the ‘Sea of Blood’) that makes a connection between the Heart and the Kidneys: the Su Wen states:
“The Heart governs the Blood [and] vessels”
“the Kidneys govern reproduction” i
and the interaction between the Heart and Kidneys is central to all aspects of health, but especially for fertility
Any disharmony between the Heart and Kidneys will affect the Chong Mai and the flow of blood to the uterus and ovaries, which are central issues for female fertility. The viscosity and flow of blood varies between individuals and blood gets thicker during a pregnancy (see APA) which increases the likelihood of it stagnating, however blood can stagnate at any time from a variety of reasons:
- From trauma where blood’s forced from its vessels, slows and stagnates, which can come from simple impacts or abdominal surgery
- From Qi stagnation: the Su Wen states that “Qi governs the Blood” and “Qi is the commander of Blood” – consequently when Qi stagnates the movement of blood slows and can stagnate; “if the Qi moves, the Blood moves” illustrates the other side of this clearly
- From Qi deficiency: the movement of Qi ‘governs’ and ‘commands’ the blood; when Qi is weak and insufficient it’s unable to perform these functions fully and the flow of blood slows, pools and will eventually congeal. Having diabetes (usually from Spleen Qi deficiency) leads to over 50% of diabetics having circulatory issues like peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuropathy and an increased risk of infection and amputationii
- From Blood deficiency: “Blood is the mother of Qi” and when blood is deficient over a long time Qi becomes deficient, and Qi is deficiency reduces the movement of blood. Long-term blood deficiency also reduces the flow of blood, in the same way a stream’s flow reduces in summer, and if this continues for too long it causes the blood to ‘pool’ and stagnate
- From Cold; “Cold lodged by itself leads to Blood congelation tears, [while] congelation leads to the vessels not being freely flowing”. Cold causes the channels and vessels to contract and constrict, and this impedes the flow of Qi, Blood and fluids, which causes pain and tears, and this blood stagnation (stasis) in turn leads to a lack of free flow in the vessels which further exacerbates the situation
- From Heat: “Where Heat is excessive, Bood becomes congealed [and] stagnant”. The influence of heat on blood is usually discussed in respect to it making blood ‘reckless’ and causing excessive bleeding. However, much like leaving a pan of milk on the hob for too long, heat can condense fluids, making them thicker and eventually they will congeal
- From Dampness and Phlegm: “Phlegm and Dmpness lead to Q obstruction; Qi obstruction leads to Qi stagnation”. When fluids are thickened they reduce the movement of Qi and Blood, and Phlegm is particularly obstructive and can easily impede the flow of Qi and Blood causing them both to stagnate. Blood stagnation can also cause Phlegm and Dampness, and this unhealthy dynamic is a major part of metabolic syndrome
Blood stasis can affect women who’ve had children as well as those who’ve never been pregnant. There are specific immune issues that cause Blood stagnation, which can be a significant problem for women who have repeated miscarriages, as the body can develop ‘immunity’ to pregnancy. Whatever the reason for the blood stagnating, staying well hydrated is crucial for encouraging better blood flow and many of us are chronically dehydrated.
Women presenting with a diagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), Asherman’s syndrome, endometriosis, obstructed fallopian tubes, recurrent miscarriage and threatened miscarriage are likely to have elements of Blood stasis and understanding how the stagnation developed is crucial in treating the Blood stasis and offering a long-term solution.
i From “Statements of Fact in Traditional Chinese Medicine” by Bob Flaws. ISBN 0-936185-52-X