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Forum Name: Neurology Topics

Question: vagus nerve imbalance or hyperexcited


 susieQ1 - Sat Jan 19, 2008 7:53 pm

Can the vagus nerve be damaged by toxins in our food & chemicals? Can vagus nerve cause heart palpations, hypoglycemia, & weak adrenals? Also, when I get a colon cramps from trapped gas, I start sweating & faint or feel faint. I've been told this is also a vagus nerve response. Your opinion please. Thank you.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Sat Aug 09, 2008 12:05 am

User avatar Hi there -

The vagus nerve is a very odd and interesting bit of equipment that has a lot of jobs in the body. While any nerve or the entire nervous system can be damaged by exposure to certain toxins, it is fairly rare for anyone living in a normal area (as opposed to, say, a chemical plant) to develop central nervous system toxicity.

The vagus nerve, however, can misbehave or be more sensitive in some people than others, and because of its involvement in digestion as well as acting as a brake on the heart rate (it is the parasympathetic nervous "system" and the sympathetic is the side which speeds up heart rate, so the two can sometimes be working against each other with interesting results). Vagal stimulation, whether from sleep, digestion, emotions, relaxation response, etc., can cause heartbeat irregularities (which in most cases are completely normal), can slow the heart rate, and, in especially sensitive people, can cause abrupt and inappropriate slowing during any of the above functions (including digestion), causing what is called a vasovagal reflex (fainting or lightheadedness). While this is not inherently dangerous, if one faints on occasion there is always the danger of an injury due to falling. Most people have enough sense of impending fainting (presyncope) so they can sit or lie down. Some, especially those who have the reflex triggered by having blood drawn, can faint rather suddenly. Fortunately this usually takes place while seated, so someone can keep them from slipping onto the floor from the chair.

Vasovagal reflex can range from slowing of the heart rate to lightheadedness, breaking out in a cold sweat, seeing spots, or outright fainting. For the few people for whom this is a frequent or highly disruptive problem, there are medications to help prevent it, and practices (such as being aware of what is likely to trigger an episode) to minimize the chance of a faint and injury due to falling. Other than that it's just a very annoying thing one learns to live with as a rule.

I hope this is helpful to you.

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