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Pasma refers to a "folk illness" unique to the Filipino culture. As such, it has distinct signs, symptoms, perceived causes and treatments which are recognized in the folk medicine of the Philippines, but these are not described in medical textbooks, discussed in medical schools, or generally recognized by contemporary medical science.

Other Philippine folk illnesses include bangungot and usog.

University of the Philippines Anthropologist Michael Tan points out:

I’ve been lecturing in several medical schools for several years now and I keep urging health professionals to be more inquisitive about these illnesses because even if these are not recognized by mainstream medicine, the ailments are very real as far as people are concerned, causing suffering and may even be cited as the cause of death, as in the case of "bangungot."

Alongside numerous diseases recognized by Filipino folk medicine, pasma is attributed to an interaction of "init" (heat) and "lamig" (cold). Under certain conditions, the body's muscles (kalamnan) are said to be "hot" and should not be too quickly brought into contact with "cold," in this case usually meaning cold water or air from a fan or air conditioner.

Symptoms and Causes

The most common symptoms of pasma are hand tremors, sweaty palms, numbness and pains. "Pasma" is thus very different from the Spanish term from which it takes its root: “espasmo,” which means spasm.

Pasma symptoms are most often cited in the hands and forearms, so anyone working in an occupation in which they extensively use their hands is said to be prone to pasma. These include laundry women, farmers, secretaries, pianists, students, factory workers and athletes. Michael Tan recalls "a rather amusing variation on this belief [in]the idea that condoms cause "pasma" allegedly because the rubber aggravates the body’s heat."

Aside from the traditional cause of "init" and "lamig", which is a traditional concept sufficiently intact in the contemporary Philippine psyche to be accepted, alone as a cause for Pasma, some correlation has been noted with diseases already recognized by contemporary medicine. For example, symptoms of pasma are similar to those found in people with diabetes mellitus and thyroid dysfunction. Also, it has been suggested that the complaints are often neurological in nature and might thus be linked to some kind of nervous dysfunction.


  • Jocano, F. Landa (1973). Folk Medicine in a Philippine Community. Quezon City: Punlad Research House, Inc.. ISBN 971-622-015-4.
  • Tan, Michael (August 8, 2007), "'Pasma' (Part 1)", Philippine Daily Inquirer Check date values in: |date= (help)