What is The Splanchnic Nerve?


The splanchnic nerve is part of a group of nerves in the body and there are three main groups. The paired visceral nerves help to innervate internal organs and carry visceral efferent fibers from the organs. The nerves also carry sensory fibers from the organs as well as carrying sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers.

The nerves originate in the thorax and run down both sides of the spinal column. The nerves then go into the abdominal cavity and terminate in the lower abdominal area.

There are three groups of splanchnic nerves:

  • Cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves
  • Abdominopelvic splanchnic nerves
  • Pelvic splanchnic nerves.


Cardiopulmonary Splanchnic Nerves


The cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves are responsible for supplying the thoracic cavity. The nerves send post sympathetic fibers to the esophagus, heart and lungs.


Abdominopelvic Splanchnic Nerves


The abdominopelvic splanchnic nerves transport presynaptic fibers to the pelvic region and abdomen. The stomach, small and large intestine, liver, kidneys, gallbladder and pancreas are supplied by the nerves.


Pelvic Splanchnic Nerves


The pelvic splanchnic nerves carry both parasympathetic and sympathetic fibers to organs in the lower pelvic area. Organs innervated include the genitals, rectum, colon, and bladder.

Pain signals from all of the organs are sent to the brain via the splanchnic nerves.

 

Splanchnic Nerve Injury


Skull of two people

Any nerve in the body can get injured and if any of the splanchnic nerves are injured it will affect organ function. If the organs are not working health problems are likely and medical treatment will be needed.

A number of things can injure a nerve such as tumors, injury, surgery and medication used to treat cancer. Nerves may also be injured by penetrating trauma and as a result of poor circulation.

Tumors


Tumors can cause serious damage to nerves whether they’re malignant or benign. As tumors grow they take up more space in the body and put pressure on nerves. If one of the splanchnic nerves is compressed it will affect the organ the nerve innervates.

Compression is where part of the nerve is trapped or subject to direct pressure. When a nerve is compressed it does not function properly until it’s freed.

Tumors may also be attached to a nerve which may affect the way the nerve functions. Nerve activity may be affected and blood supply could be diminished which is another problem.

Benign and malignant tumors can be surgically removed and if they’re near a nerve the surgery could cause injury. In order to remove a tumor the surgeon may have to operate near to one of the splanchnic nerves.

In some cases damage to the nerve cannot be avoided when removing a tumor.

Injury


An injury to the spine, chest, abdomen or pelvis puts the splanchnic nerves at risk of damage. Injuries sustained in a vehicle accident or when playing sports that damage the body could injure a nerve.

Heavy impacts or blows to the body cause bruising and swelling and nerves are at risk of compression.

Fractures to the spine or pelvis are two injuries that put the splanchnic nerve at risk of damage. The nerve can get severed by a broken bone or get trapped between pieces of bone. Fragments of bone that are left in the body after a fracture could also interfere with a neves function.


Surgery


Nerves are susceptible to injury during surgery and the splanchnic nerves could get damaged. Due to the fact that the nerves run down the spinal column any type of surgery to the spine puts the nerves at risk. Pelvic and abdominal surgery could also cause damage to the splanchnic nerves.

Surgery to organs carries risks and patients are made aware of this before having an operation. Surgery to the heart, liver, kidneys and other organs could damage the splanchnic nerve in that area. Transplant surgeries are now more common and nerves have to be reattached during these surgeries and may suffer damage.

Surgeons can also make mistakes in the operating room due to various reason. There have been cases of accidental nerve damage during surgical procedures.

Patients suffering chronic abdominal pain are sometimes offered a procedure called a splanchnic nerve block. The procedure is mostly used for cancer patients and it involves an anesthetic being injected into the spine.

The anesthetic is injected at the 11th vertebrae to provide block nerve signals which provides pain relief. Due to the toxicity of the drugs used for blocking nerves there is a risk of permanent nerve damage. Mechanical trauma from the needle is another way that the nerve could be injured.



Chemotherapy


Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer but the treatment has a number of side effects and nerve damage is one of them. A combination of drugs are used to cure or slow down the progression of the disease. The most common cancers affect vital organs including the lungs, stomach, liver and bladder.

Due to the fact these organs are innervated by the splanchnic nerves the chemotherapy can be harmful. The drugs used in chemotherapy such as vinca alkaloids, etoposide and ifosfamide are known to cause nerve damage.

Not every patient that undergoes chemotherapy treatment will suffer nerve damage but there is a risk. If the splanchnic nerves get damaged due to chemotherapy organ function could be affected.


Radiotherapy


Radiotherapy is another common treatment for cancer and it can cause nerve damage. External radiotherapy uses high energy rays which are aimed at a specific area of the body to kill off cancerous cells.

Although the rays are an effective way to kill off cancer cells surrounding healthy cells, tissue and nerves may be damaged.

Internal radiotherapy is another cancer treatment where radioactive material is put into the body. The radioactive material targets the cancerous cells and it may destroy healthy cells and splanchnic nerves.

Many healthy cells are able to repair themselves following a course of radiotherapy.


Poor Circulation


The cells in nerves require a good supply of oxygen and they use more than any other cells found in the body. Blood delivers oxygen to the nerves so that they function. If blood flow is restricted for any reason less oxygen is delivered to the splanchnic nerve.

As well as oxygen nerves need nutrients in order to function and stay healthy. Blood delivers the minerals and vitamins that are essential to maintain nerve health. Nutrients help nerves to regenerate when they have been damaged.

Symptoms associated with splanchnic nerve damage include:

  • Pain
  • Organ failure
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Sciatica
  • Digestive problems


How is Splanchnic Nerve Damage Diagnosed?


Lightning on white and blue color

The first thing a physician will do is ask the patient about their symptoms and carry out a physical examination. The physician may be able to diagnose the problem there and then but further tests can be carried out.

When further investigation is needed there are a number of options available to physicians.

Imaging tests are an effective way to locate splanchnic nerve damage. X-rays, ultrasound test, MRI and CT scans are used to look at nerves in the human body.

The high resolution images produced by the machines helps the physician to correctly diagnose the problem. When the diagnosis has been made the physician will decide on the best course of action.


Is Splanchnic Nerve Damage Permanent?


nerves on different background color

In some cases nerves will repair themselves and will return to full health. If the nerve is badly damaged a surgeon may be able to repair it by stitching or by grafting. Permanent nerve damage can occur and the symptoms will then have to be managed.  


Final Thoughts


After looking at all of the information it’s essential that the splanchnic nerve is healthy so that organs can function. Organs that are not innervated will not function and serious health complications will arise. Some splanchnic nerve damage can be avoided but unfortunately it does happen.

 

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