What is it?

The vagus nerves, also called vagal nerves, are long, branching nerves that emerge from the brain and connect to several different parts of the body. The vagus nerve originates at the brain stem and branches to many of the body’s major organs, including the larynx, lungs, heart, liver, stomach, intestine, and kidneys. One of the vagus nerve’s central roles is to serve as part of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, the network of communication that controls automatic body functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.

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Signs & symptoms

The signs of problems with the vagus nerves vary depending on where and how the nerves are affected. Some common symptoms of vagal nerve issues include:
* Abdominal pain
* Gastric acid reflux
* Swallowing difficulties
* Hoarseness or speech difficulties
* Nausea or vomiting
* Loss of appetite or weight loss
* Dizziness or fainting
* Changes in heart rate
* Changes in blood pressure
* Damage to or dysfunction of the vagus nerves can cause specific disorders, including:

Gastroparesis- In this disorder, food does not move properly from the stomach into the intestines.
Vasovagal syncope- In this disorder, rapid drops in blood pressure cause dizziness or fainting. The blood pressure changes often result from stressful situations.

Diagnosis

Doctors may take several different diagnostic steps when suspecting a patient may have a vagal nerve problem. The exact steps will vary depending on the symptoms. Possible diagnostic procedures include:
* Imaging- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, or computerized tomography (CT) scans may be used to look for intestinal blockages.
* Endoscopy- This procedure uses a small camera to examine the digestive tract.
* Echocardiogram or electrocardiogram tests measure heart function.
* Exercise stress tests measure heart function during exertion.
* Laboratory tests may be used to identify conditions such as anemia that could cause dizziness or fainting.
* A tilt table test looks for causes of dizziness related to blood pressure.

Treatment

The type of treatment plan the doctor will prescribe for vagal nerve problems will vary depending on your specific disorder.
Common treatments for gastroparesis include:
* Changes on diet to encourage emptying of the stomach
* Medications such as metoclopramide or erythromycin to stimulate stomach muscles
* Medications such as diphenhydramine or ondansetron to treat nausea
* Surgical procedures to relieve pressure in the stomach or deliver nutrients to the digestive tract
* Gastric electrical stimulation delivers an electrical pulse that stimulates stomach muscles
Common treatments for vasovagal syncope include:
* Increasing salt intake
* Adjusting medications that lower blood pressure
* Medications such as fludrocortisone acetate or SSRI antidepressants
* Therapies or compression stockings to decrease the pooling of blood in the legs
* Surgical implantation of a pacemaker to regulate heartbeat (used only in rare cases)

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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