The vagus nerve (aka pneumogastric nerve) is part of the autonomic central nervous system. It is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system. The vagus nerve is one of twelve nerves leading from the brainstem and the only one leading all the way to the abdomen. This nerve controls the functioning of most significant organs in the human body. It is the life-saving nerve for the unconscious person by dictating a constant and rhythmic heart rate. Fun fact: to support the autonomic nervous system, 90% of the brain's output power is designated to its functioning.
Vasovagal Syncope or fainting is the body's natural overreaction to specific situations such as needles being used, seeing blood and other events that invoke a response from the vagus nerve. It is a direct stimulus. The response results in an instant drop in blood pressure and heart rate. With the decrease in blood flow to the brain, an individual experiences episodes of unconsciousness. Rarely, if ever, does vasovagal syncope require a plan of treatment.
The vagus nerve regulates the heart rate during the conscious and unconscious state. It is not uncommon for the heart to experience palpitations when an individual is suffering from digestive issues. The vagus nerve directly connects the two, and it is believed that many suffer from this disorder without proper diagnosis. It is often referred to as vagus nerve irritation. It affects the heart rate. Symptoms can include chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Simple home remedies to relieve the pain include burping, changing positions, deep breathing, diet, and chewing your food. Heart palpitations can feel like a pounding feeling or a simple fluttering. In either case, they can be frightening, and medical attention should be sought. Damage to the vagus nerve would not result in a decrease in heart rate, but an increase makes it a serious and life-threatening condition.
The lungs are a primary and functioning player in the vagus nerve. During shallow breathes, it is stimulated and signals in the brain to constrict the bronchi. The stimulation and constriction make breathing more difficult. By taking deep and more even breaths, it is much easier to breathe. Deep breathing is one of the primary goals and functions of meditation. Though not a cure, meditation can be considered a breathing therapy for the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve controls the food digestion, even when unconscious. If it is damaged, there will be an excess amount of acid produced in the stomach. The production of a surplus of acid will result in possible vomiting and damage to the stomach lining and or GERD. There is also the aspect of the vagus nerve not being stimulated enough. Without enough stimulation, your stomach will not release histamine which will result in low acid levels.
In cases of vagus nerve disorder, damage to the nerve can cause problems with food passing through the esophagus. This is due to the muscles in the esophagus losing their tone. The food can become constricted within the airways or become hung up in the throat and cause further damage to the nerve and overall organs.
A disrupted vagus nerve always results in some form of constipation or bowel impaction. This being one of the most common digestive problems in the United States. Constipation occurs whenever there is any disturbance to the normal activity of the vagus nerve. Constipation is defined as having less than two to three bowel movements per week or having bowel movements that require straining and result in little to no release. There are home remedies that help alleviate constipation such as coffee at home such as cleanses, coffee enemas. Some of these remedies will aide in retraining the vagus nerve over a period of time. As in all treatments, a physician's recommendation should be sought before any changes to your daily routine.
The vagus nerve has its own "brain" called the enteric nervous system. The vagus nerve is responsible for processing, digesting and moving the food freely along the digestive system. If the vagus nerve is damaged or if a nerve disorder is present, the entire digestive will be thrown off. Constipation, gut flora, diarrhea, and more may follow. Retraining the nerve may assist in realigning the gastrointestinal system. While not always successful, this process does take several weeks due to weakened muscles. Some exercises may include gargling water, using a tongue depressor, and or singing like a bird.
The more the vagus nerve is stimulated, the less an individual will urinate properly. An individual may experience light urination to nothing at all. While no symptoms may be present, the alternative can be severe pain or urinary tract infection that lead to bladder infections if left untreated. The sense of urgency may not go away. Loss of bladder function will often result in the need to wear protective padding for either men or women.
The brain and the brain stem is where the vagus nerve begins its route. Within the brain, this nerve controls anxiety and depression. Studies indicate that it could be responsible for providing the gut instinct that is a threatening fear or induced anxiety that makes you feel sick to your stomach in situations that invoke fear. It is a form of communication with the brain that is carried back and alerts one to dangers that may be happening in the present time and place, that feeling that one gets in their gut.
For women in general, the vagus nerve can be very pleasing. It assists in controlling fertility and orgasms in women. This nerve connects to the primary reproductive organs and controls the activities of the cervix, uterus, and vagina. The vagus nerve can to a minor extent control fertility. Fun Fact: Just as in the Vagus Nerve, the word vagus means "wanderer."
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