Vagus nerve: Function, stimulation, and further research

The name “vagus” comes from the Latin term for “wandering.” This is because the vagus nerve wanders from the brain into organs in the neck, chest, and abdomen.

It is also known as the 10th cranial nerve or cranial nerve X.

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve has two bunches of sensory nerve cell bodies, and it connects the brainstem to the body. It allows the brain to monitor and receive information about several of the body’s different functions.

There are multiple nervous system functions provided by the vagus nerve and its related parts. The vagus nerve functions contribute to the autonomic nervous system, which consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts.

The nerve is responsible for certain sensory activities and motor information for movement within the body.

Essentially, it is part of a circuit that links the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain.

Side effects of vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy include:

  • hoarseness or changes in voice
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • slow heart rate
  • difficulty swallowing
  • stomach discomfort or nausea

People using this form of treatment should always tell their doctor if they are having any problems as there may be ways to reduce or stop these.

These conditions include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis inflammation
  • heart failure
  • inflammation from diabetes mellitus
  • intractable hiccups
  • abnormal heart rhythm
  • inflammation from Crohn’s disease

In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 1.3 million adults in the U.S., a study in 2016 showed that vagus nerve stimulation could help reduce symptoms. Individuals who had failed to respond to other treatment reported significant improvements, while no serious adverse side effects were noted.

This was considered a real breakthrough in how vagus nerve stimulation might not only treat rheumatoid arthritis but other inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

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