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What Are the Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Damage?

Loss of hearing can be a symptom of vagus nerve damage.
Damage to the vagus nerve may lead to an increased risk of choking on food.
Vagus nerve damage can cause an irregular heartbeat in some cases.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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The vagus nerve, also referred to as the tenth cranial nerve, begins in the brain and extends downward into the abdomen. This nerve supplies areas of the body such as the brain, the heart and lungs, and various organs of the digestive system. Damage to this nerve can cause a host of medical issues and symptoms, including trouble talking or swallowing, hearing loss, or heart or digestive problems. Bladder issues leading to incontinence are often reported in patients with vagus nerve damage as well.

One of the more common symptoms of vagus nerve damage is vocal changes, or changes in a person's voice. The voice may start to sound a bit hoarse if the larnyx, or voice box, has suffered damage. Vagus nerve damage can also cause the patient to have trouble moving the tongue as intended when trying to speak, leading to speech difficulty.

A condition known as dysphagia is another common symptom of vagus nerve damage. Dysphagia is a medical condition in which the normal act of swallowing becomes difficult and sometimes even a bit painful. Since the vagus nerve is responsible for controlling many of the muscles in the mouth and tongue, damage to this area prevents some of the movements needed for swallowing.

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A person's gag reflex is strongly controlled by the vagus nerve. Therefore, when this nerve has suffered damage or injury, the gag reflex can be reduced or even lost. This can lead to the risk of choking on food or drink or even on saliva. If the vagus nerve damage affects the part of the ear it supplies, hearing loss may occur.

A diagram showing the vagus nerve.

One of the more serious results of vagus nerve damage can be cardiovascular damage affecting the function of the heart and circulatory system. Irregular heartbeat, a condition known as arrhythmia, is the most common of these symptoms. Arrhythmia can cause chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Digestive problems can sometimes occur as a result of vagus nerve damage. Persistent constipation is often a symptom of nerve damage in this area. This is most commonly due to abnormalities in the way the stomach and intestines contract. Increased production of stomach acid is also a common symptom of this type of nerve damage.

Trouble talking or swallowing can result from vagus nerve damage.

Incontinence, or an inability to properly control the release of urine, is yet another possible symptom of vagus nerve damage. This is the nerve that supplies the urinary bladder, and damage can prevent the patient from feeling the urge to urinate, leading to loss of bladder control. The results can range from mild urine leakage to a complete inability to control urination.

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Discuss this Article

anon355355
Post 10

Can a damaged vagus nerve cause seizures?

anon342027
Post 9

Do vagus nerve disorders also cause chronic nausea and dizziness? Also what doctor would diagnose this condition?

anon295379
Post 8

I want to know about vagus nerve damage and how we can avoid vagus nerve problems through yoga.

BostonIrish
Post 5

@Leonidas226

This is true, but there are some key differences. You can chop the branches from a tree and the tree will do fine. If you lose particular nerve branches, or even damage them, however, the human system cannot function. It is important to recognize and address issues with nerve damage as soon as possible, especially if you lose feeling altogether in a particular branch.

Leonidas226
Post 4

@Renegade

This is an interesting point, because the human nervous system looks much like a tree, with the backbone being the main trunk and shaft of the system. Nerve signals are fed throughout the body after capturing light through the optic system, much like trees capture sunlight and transfer them throughout the tree.

Renegade
Post 3

The pain which results from nerve damage can be particularly excruciating if it occurs near the back. This is because most nerves travel down a central spinal nerve "highway" to transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body.

FitzMaurice
Post 2

The vagus nerve is just one nerve in the huge human nervous system. These all work together like ligaments and branches of a tree to provide perfect functioning of the human body in terms of responses and involuntary processes like digestion. Damage to any one of these nerves can have painful and dangerous results.

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