What is the Vagus Nerve? A Guide on the Signs of Dysfunction and Advice for Keeping Healthy

We cannot control many of our fundamental body functions, such as digestion and heart rate. So, what does? The vagus nerve.

Vagus means ‘wandering’ in Latin and that’s what this nerve does. It travels a long course down and around your body. This amazing cranial nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system and sends signals around our bodies, between the brain, heart and digestive system. We have left and right vagal nerves, which contain 75% of this system’s nerve fibres.

These nerves are vital for your body to manage many important bodily functions and it is crucial they are kept healthy, and any damage is identified and treated as soon as possible. At Studio X Phys, we can educate and support you if you are dealing with vagus nerve issues, or want to know how to keep them healthy.

What is the Parasympathetic Nervous System’s Role?

The body is able to function without your conscious input due to its 11 organ systems. Every second of every minute of every hour of everyday, these systems work on autopilot to keep you alive. From the skeletal and muscular systems to the respiratory, reproductive, and digestive systems, each one has a unique role.

The nervous system is responsible for controlling your internal environment and maintaining your ‘homeostasis’ – which basically means regulating your internal temperature based on your external environment. It’s also responsible coordinating spinal cord reflexes, learning and memory, and voluntary movement.

Your nervous system has two main divisions – the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (carries messages to and from the central nervous system). When breaking it further down, the peripheral nervous system also has two components – the somatic (voluntary functions) and autonomic (involuntary functions) systems.

Our autonomic nervous system is in charge of our involuntary functions – the ones we can’t control. It is made up of two systems: the sympathetic nervous system manages our fight or flight response which allows our body to be protected in dangerous or stressful situations. Meanwhile, parasympathetic system manages our rest and digestion functions. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic system.

What Does the Vagus Nerve Do?

This crucial element of the nervous system has many important roles in involuntary sensory and motor functions. These include:

  • Mood control
  • Skin and muscle sensations
  • Taste
  • Speech
  • Urine outpuT
  • Digestion
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing
  • Immune system responses
  • Saliva and mucus production
  • Sensations in the skin and muscles

Where is the Vagus Nerve?What is the Vagus Nerve

It is the longest of the cranial nerves and runs from your brain down to your large intestine. The left and right vagus nerves exit from the medulla oblongata, which is your lower brainstem. After that, they make their way through your neck, between the carotid artery and jugular vein, the chest, heart, lungs, abdomen and digestive tract.

What Happens When Problems Arise?

Sometimes, the vagus nerves don’t function as they should. Some conditions they can be involved with are:

Vasovagal Syncope: This is when the vagus nerve to the heart overreacts. Blood pressure drops quickly and feelings of dizziness or fainting (syncope) can occur. This can happen in situations such as anxiety, hunger, stress, heat, or pain.

Gastroparesis: This condition can comes about when there is damage to the vagus nerve. This can be caused by viral infections, scleroderma, diabetes or abdominal surgery. It can mean that food is unable to move into the intestine from the stomach.

What Are the Signs of Dysfunction?

There are several symptoms of vagus nerve dysfunction. Of course, always seek help from a medical professional for a formal diagnosis of your health condition. And if it is a medical emergency, dial 000.

  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Lack of gag reflex
  • Acid reflux
  • Loss of voice, hoarseness or wheezing

How to Keep Your Vagus Nerve Healthy

Your vagus nerve plays an incredible role in your overall health and wellbeing. To keep it healthy, we recommend staying active and consuming a healthy diet. It is also essential to manage any chronic health conditions you experience such as diabetes or blood pressure issues. If you’re looking for ways to destress or increase resilience, why not try meditation, yoga, or hypnotherapy.

The vagus nerve is a fascinating part of our bodies that has a massive impact on our day-to-day functioning. Understanding what it does is important to keeping it healthy. We think it’s an amazing part of our bodies!

Book Your Physio Appointment

If you are having symptoms or your doctors has diagnosed you with a related condition, contact us to discuss your options. At Studio X Phys, our experienced and trained team will work with you to help you understand your vagus nerve and provide relevant treatment.


Book an appointment with your healthcare professional