Its name comes from the Latin word for "wandering," and the vagal nerve, or vagus, is known as the rambler or the wanderer because of its extensive connections from the cranium to the rest of the body. With so many connections to different places, damage to or sickness of the vagal nerve can result in problems in one or several organs.
What Is the Vagal Nerve?
The vagal nerve is the 10th of 12 paired cranial nerves, located towards the back of the head. This nerve takes a long, winding route from the head down to the gut. While other nerves are relatively short, connecting with organs near and in the head, the vagal nerve is connected with structures from the larynx in the throat area to the kidneys and intestines.
What Does the Vagal Nerve Do?
The vagal nerve relays sensory messages and information between the brain and parts of the body ranging from ears and throat to heart, lungs and colon. Functions like heartbeat, speech and digestion are regulated by the vagal nerve.
What Is Vagal Nerve Neuropathy?
Vagal nerve neuropathy is a condition in which the nerve is damaged and is sending wrong or weak signals to and from the body and the brain. Since the vagal nerve is connected to so many different organs, manifestations of this neuropathy can include difficulty speaking, constant belching or coughing, nausea or irregular digestion or pulse.
What Causes Vagal Nerve Neuropathy?
The causes of vagal nerve neuropathy vary. Neuropathy can happen by way of upper respiratory infections or injury.
One particular form of vagal nerve neuropathy happens as a result of type 2 diabetes. Just as elevated blood sugar results in loss of sensitivity and circulation in the extremities, the disease can also take its toll on the vagal nerve, which, among other things, is thought to play a part in the immune system.
Alcoholism has also been found to contribute to vagal nerve neuropathy. A study in Spain involving several lifetime consumers of alcohol found correlations between alcoholism and difficulties breathing and moving, symptoms indicative of vagal nerve neuropathy.
Is Vagal Nerve Neuropathy Reversible?
Neuropathy of the vagal nerve can be reversed in many cases if the patient takes measures to eliminate the cause of the condition. Diabetics who control their blood sugar may regain normal function of the vagal nerve and all the organs it is connected to. Similarly, alcoholics who abstain or decrease their alcohol intake may regain properly functioning systems. Those recovering from severe upper respiratory illnesses will experience the same effect.
In other cases, such as a cough that won't go away, the damage to the nerve creates a hypersensitivity that won't disappear. In this case, a physician will prescribe medications to reduce the sensitivity of the vagal nerve.