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Vagus Nerve (Human Anatomy): Image, Functions, Diseases and Treatments

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Vagus Nerve Image

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The vagus nerves are responsible for relaying messages from the brain to the heart and intestines. Their importance in the parasympathetic nervous system cannot be overstated.

When the vagus nerve is damaged, it can prevent food from entering the intestines, a condition known as gastroparesis. As a result of their low blood pressure, some persons with vasovagal syncope faint. Epilepsy and depression both respond well to vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve, or vagus nerves, are the primary nerves of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Specific bodily activities, such as digestion, heart rate, and immunity, are regulated by this network. These processes are automatic and not subject to willful intervention.Seventy-five percent of the nerve fibres in your parasympathetic nervous system are located in your vagus nerves, both left and right. These fibres carry signals from the brain to the heart and the gut.

There are a total of 12 cranial nerves, and number 10 is the vagus nerves. The vagus is cranial nerve X, which is the Roman numeral for ten.

Where is the vagus nerve located?

The longest cranial nerve, it splits into the anterior vagus nerve and the posterior vagus nerve.

Swallowing and speaking are governed in part by the anterior vagus nerve, which provides innervation to the pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus. The posterior vagus nerve controls digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure in addition to innervating the heart and lungs.The vagus nerve is morphologically segmented into numerous groups: the superior and inferior ganglia, the nodose ganglion, the jugular ganglion, the cardiac ganglion, and the celiac ganglion. The vagus nerve contains a series of ganglia, which are groups of nerve cell bodies.

Vagus Nerve Functions

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  • The vagus nerve aids in several vital bodily processes, including digestion, heart regulation, and even speech.
  • Food digestion is aided by digestive fluids produced in response to signals from the vagus nerve. It also signals the colon to speed up the digestion process so that the nutrients can be absorbed.
  • Similarly, the vagus nerve facilitates rest and relaxation. It has a calming effect on the body and facilitates slower breathing. Because of its significance in maintaining your health and well-being, this is a must.


Vagus Nerve Conditions and Disorders

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  • Vagus nerve damage: Multiple factors, including injury, surgery, and infection, can lead to vagus nerve damage. Symptoms of vagus nerve damage include hoarseness, trouble swallowing, and gastrointestinal issues.
  • Vagus nerve inflammation: It includes a decrease in swallowing ability, abdominal pain, and trouble communicating verbally.
  • Vagus nerve irritation: Palpitations, lightheadedness, and even fainting have been linked to irritation of the vagus nerve.
  • Vagus nerve compression: Some conditions, such as tumours or enlarged lymph nodes, can cause vagus nerve compression. Hoarseness and trouble swallowing are two symptoms that can result from vagus nerve compression.
  • Vagus nerve dysfunction: Many different things, like infections and autoimmune disorders, can lead to vagus nerve dysfunction. The vagus nerve is responsible for a variety of bodily functions, and when it stops working properly, you may have symptoms including a sore throat, trouble swallowing, or gastrointestinal distress.
  • Gastroparesis: In the case of gastroparesis, the inability of the stomach to release food into the intestines due to vagus nerve injury. Diabetics, people with viral infections, those who have undergone stomach surgery, and people with scleroderma are all at risk for experiencing vagal nerve injury.
  • Vasovagal syncope: The medical term for passing out is syncope. When the vagus nerve that connects the brain and heart overreacts in response to environmental cues such severe heat, anxiety, hunger, pain, or stress, the result is vasovagal syncope. An abrupt drop in blood pressure, often known as orthostatic hypotension, can lead to symptoms such as dizziness and fainting.

What are the signs of vagus nerve problems?

The vagus nerve is an important part of your body's nervous system, and problems with this nerve can cause a variety of symptoms. Some common signs of vagus nerve problems include:

  • Difficulty swallowing: It can be difficult to swallow if the vagus nerve is injured or not functioning normally..
  • Hoarseness: Problems with the vagus nerve can lead to a hoarse or otherwise altered voice since it controls the muscles in the throat and voice box.
  • Abdominal pain: When the vagus nerve isn't functioning properly, it can lead to digestive issues like stomach pain.
  • Heart palpitations: When the vagus nerve is compromised, it can lead to abnormally high or slow heart rates.
  • Dizziness or fainting: A dip in blood pressure, leading to fainting or dizziness, can be caused by a dysfunctional vagus nerve.

Vagus Nerve Treatments

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  • Physical therapy: Vagus nerve-controlled muscles, including those in the throat and digestive tract, can benefit from physical therapy to operate better.
  • Vagus nerve decompression surgery: Pressure on the vagus nerve, caused by a tumour, edema, or other obstruction, can be relieved surgically.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation surgery: During this procedure, a device that stimulates the vagus nerve with electrical impulses is implanted under the skin. Common medical indications for this operation include those dealing with epilepsy or depression.
  • Vagus nerve ablation surgery: During this procedure, a piece of the vagus nerve is cut or removed. Common applications include the treatment of arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and the management of persistent pain.
  • Vagus nerve transplant surgery: A donor vagus nerve can sometimes be used to replace a diseased or injured vagus nerve. This procedure has not yet been extensively adopted and is considered experimental.

What are vagus nerve exercises?

Vagus nerve exercises are techniques that are designed to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve its function. Some examples of vagus nerve exercises include:

  • Deep breathing: In order to accomplish this, you should breathe in and out slowly and deeply. The vagus nerve may be better able to perform its functions after being stimulated in this way.
  • Cold water immersion: Immersing one's face or head in cold water for brief periods of time is known as cold water immersion. The vagus nerve may be better able to perform its functions after being stimulated in this way.
  • Singing or humming: Making a humming or singing sound, which can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase its function, is one method of singing or humming.
  • Massaging the neck: Massaging the neck and the area around the vagus nerve can assist to stimulate the nerve and improve its function.
  • Yoga and meditation: Focusing on the breath and the present moment is a key component of both yoga and meditation, which have been shown to induce a state of relaxation and vagal nerve stimulation.

How to massage the vagus nerve?

To massage the vagus nerve, you can follow these steps:

  • Find the vagus nerve: Just behind the ear in the neck is where you'll find the vagus nerve. You can feel it by gently pressing here with your fingertips.
  • Use a gentle touch: When massaging the vagus nerve, take care to avoid causing any discomfort. You shouldn't apply too much force or risk hurting them.
  • Massage in a circular motion: Locating the vagus nerve allows for a circular massage with the fingertips. The nerve may be stimulated and have better function as a result.
  • Use oil or lotion: If you want your fingertips to move more easily over the skin, you can apply some oil or lotion beforehand. This may help ease any discomfort caused by the massage.
  • Massage for a few minutes: The vagus nerve responds well to massage and can be worked on for a few minutes at a time. Do this as often as you desire, or as your doctor instructs.

How to stimulate the vagus nerve?

  • Electrical impulses are used in vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to stimulate the vagus nerve in the patient's left vagus. Doctors will insert a tiny device under the skin of your chest. A thin wire is inserted under the skin and leads directly to the nerve.
  • Light, painless electrical signals are sent from the device to the brain via the left vagus nerve. As a result of these impulses, your brain's abnormal electrical activity will settle down.
  • When previous treatments for epilepsy or depression have failed, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can be utilised to bring relief. Cluster headaches, inflammatory bowel disease, pain, PTSD, and rheumatoid arthritis are just some of the conditions for which this compound is being investigated as a potential treatment.

Is vagus nerve damage reversible?

Dependent on the nature and extent of the injury, vagus nerve damage may be reparable. Damage to the vagus nerve can have far-reaching effects because of the variety of bodily processes it controls.

Vagus nerve injury caused by a short-term disease, like an infection, may heal without intervention if given the right care. However, irreversible harm may result from more serious injuries or conditions. If the nerve is damaged as a result of anything like a stroke or a tumour, for instance, it may not be fixable in its entirety.

Vagus Nerve Tests

  • Electromyography: Electromyography (EMG) is a technique used to evaluate muscle electrical activity and can provide insight into vagus nerve health.
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS): This is called a nerve conduction study (NCS), and it evaluates how quickly and powerfully electrical signals flow along nerves. Vagus nerve issues can be pinpointed with its aid.
  • Imaging tests: Diagnostic imaging procedures: X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can be used to obtain pictures of the brain and spinal cord in great detail. Such examinations can be useful in detecting vagus nerve damage or dysfunction.
  • Blood tests: Examining specific components in the blood that may be elevated in the presence of vagus nerve issues is possible with a blood test.
  • Electronystagmography: Electronystagmography (ENG) is a technique that measures eye movements to evaluate the vestibular nerve (a branch of the vagus nerve) health and function.
  • Laryngoscopy: This procedure, known as a laryngoscopy, includes the use of a specialised device to view the larynx (the voice box) and its surrounding tissues. Any issues with the vagus nerve, which regulates the larynx, may be revealed by this test.
  • Pharyngeal manometry: Pharyngeal manometry is a test that examines the coordination and strength of the muscles in the throat, and it can be used to diagnose issues with the vagus nerve, which regulates these muscles.
  • Gastric emptying study: An evaluation of gastric emptying speed can assist diagnose issues with the vagus nerve, which regulates the stomach's muscular contractions.
  • Barium swallow: The barium swallow includes ingesting a liquid that contains barium, which may be seen on an x-ray. Vagus nerve controls the muscles of the throat and oesophagus, hence an x-ray can reveal any issues with these muscles.

How can I protect my vagal nerves?

There are several ways you can help protect your vagal nerves:

  • To assist maintain healthy vagal nerves, eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients.
  • Routine exercise is important for maintaining healthy nerves because it increases blood flow to the nervous system.
  • Do your best to cut down or quit smoking altogether, as this habit is harmful to your nervous system and impairs its ability to function.
  • Getting a good night's sleep will give your nerves a chance to recharge.
  • Do not overindulge in alcohol, as this can impair nerve function and lead to unpleasant physical and mental consequences.
  • There are many chemicals and substances that might cause damage to your nervous system, so it's important to limit your exposure to them. If you can, try to stay away from toxic substances.

Vagus Nerve Medicines

  • Steroids for reducing inflammation of vagus nerve: Inflammation of the Vagus Nerve can be mitigated using corticosteroids like prednisone or dexamethasone.
  • Analgesics for pain in vagus nerve: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin are just a few kinds of analgesics that may be helpful in managing Vagus nerve pain.
  • Muscle relaxants for stiffness in vagus nerve Cyclobenzaprine, Tizanidine, and Diazepam are just a few examples of effective muscle relaxants that may be used to treat Vagus Nerve Stiffness.
  • Antibiotics for infection in the Vagus Nerve: Some important examples of antibiotics that may be used to treat infection in the Vagus Nerve include penicillins, cephalosporins, and macrolides.
  • Antivirals for treating infection of vagus nerve: Acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are three effective antiviral medications for treating vagus nerve infection.

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Written ByDrx Hina FirdousPhD (Pharmacology) Pursuing, M.Pharma (Pharmacology), B.Pharma - Certificate in Nutrition and Child CarePharmacology
Reviewed By
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician

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