Vagus Nerve

The longest nerve of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which regulates automatic body functions such as heartbeat. The vagus nerve is actually a pair of nerves that are essential for speech, swallowing, and the sensation and function of many organs throughout the body.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) using an implanted neurostimulator has been used to control seizures in epileptic patients and treat drug-resistant cases of clinical depression. Some medical researchers also believe that VNS may someday be used to treat tinnitus, a condition characterized by the subjective sensation of noise in the ears. A recent study also showed that VNS improved the severity of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), most likely by inhibiting the production of an inflammatory cytokine called tumor necrosis factor, suggesting VNS as an experimental treatment for RA.

In May 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a noninvasive VNS device called gammaCore for treating pain from episodic cluster headaches in adults. Cluster headaches are severe, debilitating headaches that occur in “clusters” — that is, they occur repeatedly with intermittent headache-free periods. The pain tends to be excruciating and continuous and begins around the eye or temple on one side of the face. Applied to the neck, this handheld portable VNS device allows patients to self-administer mild electric nerve stimulation whenever they need relief from the symptoms of a cluster headache. In January 2018, the device was also approved “>to treat acute migraine.

Want to learn more about gammaCore? Read “New Treatment for Migraines Receives FDA Approval.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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