What are the different types of vagus nerve disorders?

There are two main types of vagus nerve disorders. One is caused by an underactive or inactive vagus nerve, while the other is caused by a vagus nerve that overreacts to ordinary stimuli. Patients with underactive vagus nerves often experience serious gastrointestinal problems that require long-term treatment. People with overactive vagus nerves may faint frequently. This condition is not considered harmful, although patients may accidentally injure themselves as a result of sudden fainting.

Vagus nerve disorders that stem from an underactive vagus nerve often lead to a condition known as gastroparesis. Patients suffering from this disorder may experience pain in the stomach, nausea, heartburn, stomach spasms, and weight loss. These symptoms occur because the vagus nerve cannot direct enough blood to the stomach to complete digestion properly. In most cases, patients with gastroparesis will need to manage the condition medically for the rest of their lives.

In some patients, vagus nerve disorders can also be seen in other systems. This nerve is partially responsible for maintaining heart rate and blood pressure, and if it's not working properly, patients may need a variety of medical interventions in order to live. Pacemakers may be used to prevent the heart rate from slowing, and medications may be needed to raise blood pressure within an acceptable range. Vagus nerve disorders that are this serious are rare and often congenital or the result of serious disease or injury to the nerve.

Patients can also suffer from vagus nerve disorders caused by an overactive vagus nerve. The main symptom of these disorders is fainting. In most cases, patients who have overactive vagus nerves will begin to faint at the onset of puberty. Once doctors determine that the vagus nerve is responsible for the fainting, no further medical intervention is needed. Although it is possible for patients to be injured in a fall, there is no risk from vagus nerve activity.

Overactive vagus nerve disorders can be triggered by a number of different causes. The vagus nerve diverts blood to the stomach and can be diverted too far from the brain when a patient vomits, digests a large meal, or has a bowel movement. Stress and emotional stimuli can also cause the vagus nerve to divert too much blood away from the brain.

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