There are various elements within our bodies with multiple functions. Their multi-tasking abilities keep us healthy, prevent illness, and allow body parts to seamlessly work together as one.

One of these multi-taskers is the vagus nerve. You might have never heard of it, but this nerve performs several primary functions. It is always at work.

Often if you are experiencing things like anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, gut issues, depersonalization, and fatigue, it could very well be a result of a vagus nerve issue.

It doesn’t mean this nerve is out to harm us. On the contrary, it wants our bodies to maintain high functionality standards.

The problem comes if irritated or damaged. Likewise, the vagus nerve becomes an unwilling silent enemy.

Before going into the top ten disorders of the vagus nerve though, let’s find out more about what it is.

What Is the Vagus Nerve?

Anatomical Photo of the Vagus Nerve in the Neck along with Other Nerves

Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, Adrian Halga, via Wikipedia Commons

The vagus nerve comes as the longest of 12 cranial nerves. Moreover, these pairs of nerves all arise directly from the brain, including the brainstem. It contains both sensory and motor fibers.

It is also a part of the autonomic nervous system. Nerves found in this system all contribute in ways that often not thought about.

For the reason that the autonomic nervous system relates to those subconscious processes like digestive function, breathing, and heartbeat.

The parasympathetic nervous system comes as one of the three sections of the autonomic nervous system. The vagus nerve thrives in this area. Further, it signifies as the rest and digest system as mentioned earlier.

The vagus nerve holds the tenth cranial nerve. So, the prominence of this nerve makes it vital to our bodies operating at the optimal level. All that said, what are these functions it so expertly helps with?

What Does the Vagus Nerve Do?

Vagus nerve function and stimulation

Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Manu5, via Wikipedia Commons

To understand just the importance of the vagus nerve, going much further than discovering what it innervates seems inapplicable.

The vagus nerve stimulates and supplies energy to the:

  • heart
  • pharynx
  • lungs
  • stomach and intestine
  • the esophagus’ upper part
  • larynx
  • part of the external hearing apparatus

That’s quite a list, and with a diameter of two to three inches, it’s impressive that it does all this. Still, all these are on the receiving end of the vagus nerve’s energy supply.

By innervating these organs, the vagus nerve allows for a variety of functions within the body to work well.

The body can be viewed as an operating system where every part has a designated task. As the vagus nerve innervates, as long as it is healthy, functionality continues without hiccups.

Major functions

  • Regulates appetite
  • During the digestive phase, it controls bowel movement
  • Helps regulate mood
  • Helps regulate cardiac rhythm
  • Stimulates gastric juice production
  • Regulates the digestive phases
  • Regulates sweating

So how does it get around to do all this?

What Path Does the Vagus Nerve Take?

In summary, the vagus nerve’s journey takes it along the carotid, internal jugular vein, to the front of the Atlas vertebra. This is great when everything is in good working order.

If the Atlas is out of alignment, however, the vagus nerve can become compressed, which leads to various disorders.

Top 10 Vagus Nerve Disorders

Disorder on the Left and Right Vagus Nerve Located at Thyroid gland

Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, Anatomist90, via Wikipedia Commons

Now that you’re armed with more info about the vagus nerve and its functions, let’s dive into the top 10 disorders it can cause.

With so much going on in the world of this nerve, unfortunately, sometimes things break down.

Vagus nerve dysfunction leads to a number of symptoms that many don’t know the nerve is responsible for.

Here are the top 10 related disorders:

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  2. Obesity and weight gain
  3. Chronic fatigue
  4. Depression
  5. Bradycardia and tachycardia (Irregular heartbeat; too slow or fast respectively)
  6. Peptic Ulcer
  7. Weight loss
  8. Gastroparesis
  9. Chronic inflammation
  10.  Epilepsy

This one nerve can cause so many problems. You might be experiencing some of its effects and be completely unaware of the root cause.

Knowing some of the causes that can lead to vagus nerve disorders, can help prevent these problems.

What Causes Vagus Nerve Disorders?

Vagus Nerve Disorder on the Internal carotid artery

Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, Anatomist90, via Wikipedia Commons

Damage to the vagus nerve can be prevented in some cases, while in others another ailment or trauma may be the cause.

Supplying motor nerve impulses from the tongue and voice box muscles, as well as receiving sensory impulses from the chest and abdomen organs, ear, and throat is a big job.

Add sending visceral nerve pulses to the abdominal and chest organ glands, and throat glands, and there’s room for unfortunate mishaps along the way.

As such, vagus nerve damage can be caused by:

Chronic Alcohol Abuse

Chronic alcohol abuse is no good for the autonomic nervous system, as it has a toxic, dose-related effect. Notably, the vagus nerve is one of those that can be harmfully affected by this type of abuse.

This abuse, known as alcoholic neuropathy, causes damage to multiple nerves. Unfortunately, if more nerves than the vagus are affected, symptoms can be even more problematic for the body’s overall functioning.

Diabetes

Consistent increase in blood sugar can lead to altered nerve chemistry. As this disease can result in nerve damage to many of them, the vagus nerve doesn’t escape.

Gastroparesis is one of the primary results of diabetes-induced damage to the nerve. Likewise, symptoms include constipation, vomiting, and abdominal bloat.

Basically, the stomach and intestine muscles are no longer able to properly move food around properly.

Complications During Surgeries

During surgeries focused on the small intestine or stomach, the vagus nerve can be damaged. One that is usually associated with this kind of damage is laparoscopic hemifundoplication. Therefore, this procedure is used as a treatment for gastric reflux.

Infections

Upper respiratory viral infections imply another culprit as it relates to vagus nerve damage.

Apparently, it might be hard to pin down if there’s been damage initially, as symptoms seem like a standard cold or mild flu. Possibly, they include nasal congestion, runny nose, and cough.

Evidently, it becomes clearer that there may be vagus damage when symptoms stick around for the long haul. Hence, should vagus nerve damage be the cause, it is represented as viral vagal neuropathy or PVVN.

Seemingly, some individuals suffer from issues speaking properly, throat clearing, vocal fatigue, and persistent cough.

As we dive further into the world of the vagus nerve, it can be a bit unnerving thinking of the ways it can be affected.

Sequentially, the good news that we bring denotes some ways to treat the disorders and reverse the damage.

How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve?

Human anatomy including Vagus Nerve structure and development

Image: Public Domain US, Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr

The same way the vagus nerve stimulates so many elements within our bodies, it needs some too. Additionally, this keeps the nerve properly functioning and able to perform its tasks.

In severe cases, a device can be implanted under the skin and allows for stimulation using electrical pulses. Besides, the way it works makes this device much like a cardiac pacemaker.

Furthermore, achieving vagus nerve stimulation comes importantly before a problem arises. Or, if compression or damage appears – before existing symptoms get worse.

Conclusively, many of these stimulants comprise things we can easily employ in our daily lives. Some might even surprise you.

Methos for vagus nerve stimulation:

  • Yoga and Meditation – both these things increase parasympathetic system activity. Try a few “Oms” – the vagus nerve loves it.
  • Breathing slowly and deeply from your belly.
  • Exercise – gut flow is stimulated by mild exercise.
  • Oxytocin
  • Positive social interactions
  • Fasting
  • Letting your body adjust to cold – cold water in the face; cold showers; etc.
  • Acupuncture
  • Zinc
  • Gargling – contracts the muscles at the back of the throat which aids in stimulation.
  • Massage
  • Probiotics – more evidence related to gut microbiota having effects on the brain.
  • Chanting or Singing
  • Laughter – can really be the best medicine.
  • Eating Fiber
  • Laying on your right side when sleeping

Probably, the list comes as an extensive one such that it guides your daily activities. It also includes practices like tensing stomach muscles or coughing, practicing Tai Chi which increases heart rate, and getting some sun.

Ultimately, the easy things that we do every day and probably don’t realize seem to have a large impact they have on our vagus nerve.

Conclusion

A flow diagram showing the process of stimulation of Autonomic nervous system with the Vagus Nerve

Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Manu5, via Wikipedia Commons

The vagus nerve contributes to so many functions in our bodies, keeping it as “happy” as possible should be of prime importance.

This doesn’t mean that you have to worry about every little thing you do. As well as with every symptom that seems like related to vagus nerve damage.

Instead, observe and take part in those things that relax you. Whatever makes you happy and content. Avoid excessive drinking and habits that lead to diabetes or related illnesses.

As you take care of your vagus nerve, it surely takes care of you in return.

 

Featured Image: CC by 2.0, Beth Scupham, via Flickr

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