We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Nervus Vagus?

By Katriena Knights
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

One aspect of the study of neurology is identifying the individual nerves that work to carry sensory information from various parts of the body to the brain. The nervus vagus is an important pathway in the nervous system because it carries signals from several areas of the body, including the lungs, esophagus, stomach, larynx (voice box), pharynx, lungs, heart and a large part of the digestive system. Literally translated, "vagus" means "wandering" in Latin. The most complex as well as the longest of the nerves descending from the brain, the vagus nerve earns its name by wandering through a large area of the body to serve this wide range of organs.

A cranial nerve, the nervus vagus finds its origins in the brain, in rootlets from the lateral side of the medulla oblongata. Passing through the jugular foramen, an opening in the skull, it continues between the carotid artery and the jugular vein in the carotid sheath. From there, it spreads and branches throughout the body, giving rise to several branches along the way. Body functions that depend on the nervus vagus include peristalsis — wavelike contractions — in the gastrointestinal tract, sweating and even movement of the mouth that enables speech.

Also known as the tenth cranial nerve or the pneumogastric nerve, the nervus vagus carries signals to these areas of the body from the brain and delivers messages back to the brain. Among other functions, this path can send signals that will lower the heart rate when necessary by interacting with the sinoatrial node. More than 80 percent of the nerve fibers in this pathway carry sensory information so the brain can interpret the overall state of the lungs, heart and viscera. The rest of the nerve fibers are motor fibers that trigger movement or action in the body. Because the nervus vagus carries both sensory and motor fibers, it is considered a mixed nerve.

Stimulation of the nervus vagus using a device similar to a heart pacemaker is sometimes used to treat epileptic seizures and some forms of depression that do not respond to medications. This pathway also can be stimulated through specific movements or muscle contractions. These types of stimulation are occasionally recommended for patients who suffer from certain kinds of heart arrhythmia. Blocking the action of the nervus vagus through similar manipulations or even cutting it in a procedure called a vogotomy is sometimes used in conjunction with bariatric surgery to treat morbid obesity.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By mblox — On Jan 04, 2015

My son has suffered from chronic and constant migraines for the past 15 years. He has violent episodes of vomiting until he is hospitalized to break the cycle, which takes five to 10 days to accomplish this. He suffered with ulcerative colitis as a child and at the age of 12 he had a total colectomy with a permanent ileostomy and complete closure of the rectum. Since that surgery in 1999, he has had this constant, 24/7 migraine.

The doctors are at a loss and have given up, telling him to return to pain management. Over 30, years he has seen all of the best doctors in the state of Florida, east coast to west coast, and they don't have a clue.

I have been researching this vagus nerve on my own. I did mention this possibility to the doctors, GI and primary from his last hospital stay over Christmas, and they responded with an empty look or as if I'm asking the unknown.

Please, I need some help. What kind of doctor would I take him to and possibly get this nerve checked out? As a mother I am frustrated and helpless to find a solution for this debilitating condition my son has. He suffers 24/7. Please give me some direction if you can. Thank you in advance for your input.

By B707 — On Jul 20, 2011

@BoniJ - One of your post questions was about using stimulation of the nervus vagus to help patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression.

I have read about one study relating to this. There were sixty people who had tried medication, but it wasn't effective. They were given nerve stimulation of the nervus vagus, in a single blind study. And then a period of no stimulation.

The data showed that those who were mild to moderately resistant to other treatments showed the greatest response to the nerve stimulation.

I think that much more needs to be studied in this area - but it does sound promising.

By BoniJ — On Jul 19, 2011

It's surprising that the nervus vagus nerve controls both sensory data and movement signals. This nerve monitors the function of important organs, like the digestive system, and muscle contractions.

Apparently using something like a pacemaker can act on the nervus vagus to decrease depression in some people. I wonder how this is done and how effective it is?

One last question. I know a woman at work, who is very obese. She is researching to find a surgical method to curb her appetite. Vogotomy surgery involves blocking or cutting the nervus vagus nerve. Exactly how does this procedure help an obese person, is it dangerous, and how effective is it?

By snickerish — On Jul 19, 2011

@Sinbad - I have read about VNS stimulation (vagus nerve stimulation) as well, and am not sold either way. One of the things I would like to know more about is how VNS stimulation is used for depression *and* to help curb food cravings.

It is neat in theory but is there science to this stimulation?

By Sinbad — On Jul 18, 2011

The vagus nerve seems to be a part of everything!

And it is for that reason that I am a little nervous about possibly giving advice to a friend, as a friend, and definitely not as a medical professional about vagus nerve stimulation.

My friend has had depression for a long time and although she has tried different things, her depression continues to linger.

I'm sure it is controversial but I have read a few accounts of vagus nerve stimulation (vns stimulation) helping depression. Has anyone else heard of this?

By Tomislav — On Jul 18, 2011

Another connection between the vagus nerve (commonly misspelled as the vegas nerve, which is a great way to remember the name of the nerve as the "Las Vagus Nerve") into your everyday life:

When you are using a q-tip or cotton swab, if you have ever coughed, you elicited a cough reflex which occurs when you stimulate part of the vagus nerve with your q-tip.

I have never done this, but my husband does it often. So don't be surprised the next time you cough while q-tipping!

By Charmagne — On Jul 17, 2011

@OhDeDoh- I have worked in health care, too. These vagal attacks can result in other ways as well. I have seen or heard of vasovagal episodes resulting from standing or sitting up for too long. It can happen when someone stands up too quickly.

Things like stress, trauma, or painful stimuli can bring on attacks. Dehydration can be an agitator. Along with bowel movements, the same result can occur with urination. And as if the effects of illegal drugs weren’t bad enough, drugs like methamphetamines can cause a vagal attack.

The Nervus Vagus can be affected by so many things. It’s important to know different ways we can be harmed by things that interfere with the healthy function of this nerve.

By OhDeDoh — On Jul 17, 2011

There are different ways the vagus nerve function can have surprising impacts on the human body. When I worked in health care with elderly patients, I learned the phrase ‘vagul out’, or ‘vaguling out’.

I know that isn’t the proper medical term. What it refers to is when a person is going to the bathroom and strains really hard. This can actually cause reduced circulation to the vagus nerve, and therefore the brain, and cause a patient to pass out.

This is actually called a vasovagal episode, or more specifically, vasovagal syncope.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.