What Are the Different Types of Vagus Nerve Disorders?

The human nervous system.
A diagram showing the vagus nerve.
Article Details
  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Images By: J E Theriot, Alila
  • Last Modified Date: 04 July 2014
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There are two main types of vagus nerve disorders. One is caused by an under-active or inactive vagus nerve, while the other is caused by a vagus nerve that overreacts to ordinary stimuli. Patients with under-active vagus nerves often experience severe gastrointestinal problems requiring longterm treatment. Those with overactive vagus nerves may faint frequently. This condition is not considered harmful, though patients can be accidentally injured as a result of sudden fainting.

Vagus nerve disorders that stem from an under-active vagus nerve often lead to a condition known as gastroparesis. Patients suffering from this disorder may experience pain in the stomach, nausea, heartburn, stomach spasms, and weight loss. These symptoms occur because the vagus nerve is unable to direct enough blood to the stomach to complete digestion properly. In most cases, patients with gastroparesis will need to manage the condition medically for the rest of their lives.

In some patients, problems with the vagus nerve may be seen in other systems as well. This nerve is partially responsible for maintaining the heart rate and blood pressure, and if it doesn't function properly, patients may need a range of medical interventions in order to live. Pacemakers may be used to keep the heart rate from dropping and medication may be needed to increase the blood pressure to within an acceptable range. Vagus nerve disorders that are this severe are rare and often either congenital or the result of a serious illness or injury to the nerve.

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Patients may also suffer from vagus nerve issues that are caused by an overactive vagus nerve. The main symptom of these disorders is fainting. In most cases, patients who have overactive vagus nerves will begin fainting at the onset of puberty. Once doctors have determined that the vagus nerve is responsible for the fainting, no further medical intervention is needed. Though it is possible for patients to injure themselves in a fall, there is no risk from the activity of the vagus nerve itself.

Overactive vagus nerve disorders can be triggered by a number of different causes. The vagus nerve diverts blood to the stomach and may divert too much away from the brain when a patient is vomiting, digesting a large meal, or having a bowel movement. Stress and emotional stimuli can also cause the vagus nerve to divert too much blood away from the brain.

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Discuss this Article

anon950960
Post 9

Are there any preventatives or cures for vasovagel snycope?

anon933625
Post 8

Could this nerve also cause irregular heartbeats and a racing heart?

anon328668
Post 7

I have an overactive vagus nerve. It only triggers when I exercise hard and then stop without cooling down. It's never affected my driving and really, unless you push yourself you never really notice any issue at all. Mine was only diagnosed after I scared a gym owner as his machinery wouldn't detect my pulse rate since my resting pulse rate is so low. I think the underactive one is worse.

anon318048
Post 6

I've been diagnosed with Vasovagal syncope but have been having stomach issues the past couple of years. My mother has been diagnosed with Gastroparesis. I was wondering if maybe these two were somehow connected causing my intertwining problems?

anon286880
Post 5

My brother was diagnosed almost two years ago with Transverse Myelitis and he is still in a wheelchair, and has problems with stomach, speech and pain. I know of another man who was diagnosed with this and he has absolutely no symptoms at all!

Can someone tell me if this nerve has anything to do with his illness? I frankly have always believed he had a stroke and not the TM!

KaBoom
Post 4

@strawCake - It wouldn't surprise me if constant fainting prevented someone from driving. I have a friend who is epileptic, and he can't drive because he gets seizures far too often! And not being able to drive has really affected his life, so I can see how this would be rough for someone with a vagus nerve disorder too!

Anyway, nerve disorders can be tricky. I used to work with someone that had a nerve disorder that affected one of the nerves in her face (I forget what the nerve was called). Her disorder caused severe pain, which made it difficult for her to hold down a job. Plus, she had to go to doctors appointment constantly!

I think she eventually got disability, which made a lot of sense in her case.

strawCake
Post 3

@Monika - It's awful it took a long time for your classmate to get a diagnosis! But at least she had a treatable vagus nerve disorder. I imagine having the kind that makes you faint would make life a bit difficult.

First of all, you can definitely hurt yourself by falling, as the article said. Second of all, people with this disorder are probably restricted from driving. How can you safely operate a car when you might faint dead away while you're driving it? And from what the article said, there's no way to stop the fainting!

Monika
Post 2

I took a class once with a woman who had a vagus nerve disorder. She had an under-active vagus nerve, so she had the stomach symptoms. Unfortunately, it took a very long time for her doctor to diagnose her!

I'm not surprised, because the symptoms are really non-specific. After all, a lot of different disorders can cause heartburn, stomach spasms and nausea. My fellow classmate told me that she went through a ton of testing before she was diagnosed. Her doctor did all kinds of stuff including blood work and various types of medical imaging!

However, once her condition was diagnosed, the doctor was able to help her get it under control.

anon266560
Post 1

This nerve surely must therefore have a lot to do with migraines, considering it affects that area of the base of the neck, as well as the digestion (e.g., vomiting with migraine).

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