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Definition of Vagus nerve

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Vagus nerve: A nerve that supplies nerve fibers to the pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), lungs, heart, esophagus, and intestinal tract, as far as the transverse portion of the colon. The vagus nerve also brings sensory information back to the brain from the ear, tongue, pharynx, and larynx. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It originates in the medulla oblongata, a part of the brain stem, and extends all the way down from the brain stem to the colon. Complete interruption of the vagus nerve causes a characteristic syndrome in which the soft palate droops on the side where damage occurred, and the gag reflex is also lost on that side. The voice is hoarse and nasal, and the vocal cord on the affected side is immobile. The result is difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and speaking (dysphonia). The vagus nerve has several important branches, including the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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