What does the Vagus Nerve Do?

Nerves link various parts of body from and to brain in order to help in improving physiological, immunological, and hormonal functions in body. Vagus nerve is among the 12 cranial nerves that exit the skull instead of exiting through vertebral column or spine. It’s the tenth of the cranial nerves. Nerves are very intricate and they supply important motor and sensory information to the brain neurons in order to allow for critical activities.


Disorders or damage of vagus nerve may result in uncomfortable symptoms or problems.

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vagus nerve picture location


Vagus Nerve – Functions

Vagus nerve relays motor nerve impulses to different muscles such as those of the tongue and voice box. It also receives sensory impulses from throat, organs of abdomen and chest, as well as ear.


The vagus nerve also supplies visceral nerve impulses to abdomen organs, chest organs, and glands of throat. It is among the longest of cranial nerves. The main functions of vagus nerve are breathing, sweating, speech, monitoring and regulation of heartbeat, or keeping larynx open when breathing.


It also informs the brain about food that’s being ingested and the one which has been digested. Vagus nerve plays a major function in emptying food from the gastric region. When there is damage to vagus nerve, it causes gastroparesis— a condition where there is loss of muscular function in intestines and stomach.


In gastroparesis, it results in slow emptying of food, something that leads to other complications like fermentation of food or food being compacted into hard pallets. Such pallets can cause severe complications when they are stuck in intestine. In people with diabetes, an increased level of sugar without being controlled could result in damage of vagus nerve.

Vagus Nerve Disorders

Vagus nerve disorders are also referred to as the tenth cranial nerve disorders, and they can cause different problems to the body considering that this nerve is a key player when it comes to relay of information to brain. Anyone can develop disorders of the vagus nerve from birth to midlife, or even the old age.


Disorders of vagus nerve can cause problems with digestion of food. This is because this nerve helps in the peristalsis movement of the stomach. Whenever there is pressure induced on vagus nerve, it may result to disorder. Other stimulation may also result in vagus nerve disorders.

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A surgery procedure of cancer disease, may sometimes make people lose their vagus nerve. People who have disorders of vagus nerve may experience symptoms such as sweaty skin, loss of consciousness, and nausea. And because the nerve regulates heartbeat, whenever there is vagus nerve disorder, it could cause slow down of heart rate thereby resulting in low blood pressure or hypotension.

Vagus Nerve Damage Symptoms

The symptoms of vagus nerve disorders may be categorized as overactive because they are released due to excess production of neurotransmitters. The disorders may be classified as underactive or inactive when there is less stimulation of nerve, which restricts systemic functioning of organs. Some of the symptoms experienced include pain, which is the most common in people with vagus nerve disorder.


Pain may be experienced when the disorder is due to mechanical pressure, injury, or trauma that results in inflammatory swelling and neuralgia. Another symptom is organ dysfunction. When a branch of nerve leading to a localized area or an organ is affected, it may result in dysfunction of the organ.


Muscle cramps may occur when damage of vagus nerve is witnessed. This may affect muscles of the vocal cord thereby interfering with breathing and voice. People with vagus nerve damage may also have difficulties in swallowing. In order to prevent aspiration of food, glottis is closed when swallowing food. The gag reflex controls this closing of glottis.


In patients with stroke or head injury, the gag reflex is likely to be impaired thereby leading to chocking when one is eating or difficulties in swallowing. Gastroparesis may be experienced in people with vagus nerve damage. When there is under-activity of this nerve, it may interfere with supply of blood in stomach after ingesting food thereby leading to improper digestion.


People with gastroparesis usually have painful spasms in their stomach, which in turn affects food intake and causes heartburn, weight loss, and nausea. The modulation or control of gastric acid secretion may be impaired when the vagus nerve is damaged. This may lead to excessive secretion of peptic acid, which causes ulceration or peptic ulcers, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or dyspepsia.


People who have disorders of the nerve may also develop other symptoms such as urinary difficulties, changes in vocal tone, and rhythm of heart.

Treatment of vagus nerve disorders

In treatment of vagus nerve disorders, modification of lifestyle and exercises can reduce the severity of symptoms. Sometimes, surgical intervention might be needed in order to treat the condition. A device for vagal nerve stimulation may be used, which induces a similar activity as that of a cardiac pacemaker implanted under skin to help generate impulses to manage symptoms of seizures and depression.


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