The vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves which is the longest of them all. It extends all the way from the brainstem down through the chest and lowers to the abdomen and pelvis. It travels nearby the lungs, the heart and also the intestines. It is the part of involuntary nerve system innervation. It controls the digestion and can impact a heartbeat. It comes from a Latin word for “wandering” since it has a wavy and long path all the way to the end of its length. Many conditions can be linked with vagus nerve irregularity such as low blood pressure, loss of consciousness and also depression.
It is the 10th cranial nerve also called the wandering nerve. It receives the signal from the body and regulates the involuntary processes such as the heart rate and digestion. Since it can regulate the circulation via the heart, it can cause fainting if the circulation of the brain gets affected. Its branches regulate multiple organs and its damage can result in various symptoms.
Vagus Nerve Disorder
There are two types of disorder where vagus nerve can be out of order. It can be overactive vagus nerve and underactive vagus nerve. Both disorders result in vagus nerve dysregulation and it can be caused by many injuries and conditions.
Overactive Vagus Nerve
The overactive vagus nerve can result in circulation disruption which can result in loss of consciousness. Since this is a sudden occurrence, a person can get hurt when falling on a hard object or it can hit his head.
Vasovagal Syncope is a condition where the vagus nerve overreacts to some stimuli, such as when a person gets their blood tests and with a sight of blood, they faint. This is due to sudden blood pressure drop where the vagus nerve causes a change in heart rate and the brain gets less blood flow which results with fainting. It usually does not require treatment. Those persons should lay down and wait a few minutes while their pressure gets regulated before leaving the doctor’s office.
Underactive Vagus Nerve
Some conditions can cause nerve damage such as inflammation, neoplastic processes or infections. It can abrupt the normal functioning of the vagus nerve and result in the underactive vagus nerve.
Underactive vagus nerve usually results in a condition called gastroparesis. It is the state of slow digestion movements. It is accompanied with stomach pain, nausea, spasms, heartburn, weight loss, etc. Since the intestines don’t have the proper chemicals to digest the food such as hormones, the absorption of the nutrients is reduced and the food cannot be used properly. Another symptom of the underactive vagus nerve is a slower heart rate since it doesn’t stimulate the heart like it should in a normal state. It can progress to a state of loss of consciousness and even coma. This condition can be treated with a pacemaker in order to achieve the needed heart rate for proper body functioning.
Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Disorder
Symptoms can be present in both types of disorders, underactive and overactive vagus nerve. Here are some of the most common ones.
If the nerve is affected by an inflammation, infection or a mechanical pressure, it can be accompanied with pain. This is mostly present in a condition of a pinched nerve and it can lead to neuralgia. Usually, it is compressed at the spot where it exits the skull through the opening called jugular foramina.
Vagus Nerve innervates multiple muscles such as the muscle of the vocal cord (muscles of the larynx) but also muscles of the pharynx, heart, and bowels. Due to these facts, symptoms can be altered voice and problems with swallowing but also muscle cramps and difficulty with walking and picking up objects. Pain in the stomach area is common and it can be followed by bloating.
The gag reflex can be damaged where a person’s glottis is open when normally is should be closed. When one with vagus nerve tries to swallow, it can result in choking while eating. This is commonly seen in patients with head injuries and stroke.
As we mentioned above, vagus nerve disorder can lead to bowel problems. Since the intestines don’t get the proper blood supply, needed hormones, and digestive juices, it results in stomach cramp, weight loss, pain, heartburn, nausea.
As we mentioned above, fainting can be a part of vasovagal reflex where the blood pressure can suddenly fall which leaves the brain out of necessary blood flow. The person can get hurt if it falls down and gets injured.
Treatment of Vagus Nerve Disorder
This can be useful if the nerve disorder is caused by muscle tension and the compression of the nerve which can cause the disorder. Try flexing your neck by touching the chest with your chin and then retract the head back keeping your chin as far as you can get from the chest. This will lead to tension reduction.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
If you have underactive vagus nerve, the cardiac pacemaker may be the choice for therapy. It is implanted under the skin and it sends the signals to the heart keeping the heart rate at a normal level and it can also help with seizures and depression treatment.
Since it can result in malnutrition, doctors may opt for tube feeding to get the needed nutrients. A drug called ondansetron can be added to therapy to avoid vomiting and nausea.
Some don’t require therapy, but drugs of choice can be sertraline and paroxetine.
Yoga and Meditation
There are exercises which promote proper breathing and vagus nerve stimulation. Yoga can also help with stress relief with some positions and body posture. Deep, belly breathing is advised.