Vagus nerve dysfunction: what is it and what are the main symptoms?

Written by: Professor Owen Epstein
Published: | Updated: 13/04/2023
Edited by: Conor Lynch

Vagus nerve dysfunction occurs when the vagus nerve has been damaged due to a past infection or inflammation or when we experience a prolonged period of physical or mental stress. In our latest article, renowned gastroenterologist, Professor Owen Epstein, talks us through all things vagus nerve dysfunction, offering us a handful of useful home remedies for the condition.


What are the symptoms of vagus nerve dysfunction?

The vagus nerve conveys information from the major organs of the body to the brain, where a “spam filter” determines the direction of the information stream. If all is well, our consciousness is shielded from the incoming information feed while organ disease or disorder allows information upload to consciousness where we appreciate that something is wrong.


If this information provides too little or too much information (false news), we may feel unwell with digestive symptoms, brain fog, fatigue, muscle ache and headache amongst other non-specific symptoms.



What causes vagus nerve dysfunction?

There are two main causes of vagus nerve dysfunction: previous infection or inflammation and physical or psychological stress.



Is there a test for vagus nerve dysfunction?

Yes, a lightweight wearable device called Bodyguard 2 is worn for 72 hours, allowing measurement of heart rate variability which is a marker of vagus health.



What are some home remedies to calm the vagus nerve?

When functioning properly, the role of the vagus is to promote wellbeing. There are many useful techniques that one can engage in to calm the vagus nerve at home, such as:

  • special breathing exercises
  • meditation (Ex. mindfulness, mantra meditation, movement meditation)
  • yoga
  • massage
  • music


How effective are vagus nerve stimulators?

If there is evidence of vagus nerve malfunction, a non-invasive nerve stimulator may improve or restore inner balance and wellbeing.


Professor Owen Epstein is a highly experienced minimally invasive gastroenterologist who specialises in the stomach and intestine, and the vagus nerve’s relationship with abnormal gut feelings. Visit his Top Doctors profile here to book an appointment with him.

By Professor Owen Epstein

Professor Owen Epstein is a renowned and pioneering professor of gastroenterology, based at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London. He has a special interest in the innovation of healthcare and the technologies used to ease the patient journey. These include whole bowel wireless capsule (pill) endoscopy and hydrogen or 13C breath testing variously for lactose intolerance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, Helicobacter pylori, stomach pump function and colon cancer screening using minimally invasive colon capsule endoscopy. He also has considerable experience in the physiological assessment of the vagus nerve and stress and, in particular, its relationship to abnormal gut feelings. Professor Epstein has had a hugely successful career and is regarded as one of the leaders in minimally-invasive techniques and a gentler patient journey.

Professor Epstein is widely published with more than 100 reviewed publications to his name. He is the senior author of the best-selling textbook Clinical Examination and the originator of the 'The Map  of Medicine', which is a key online resource used by healthcare professionals. He founded the Royal Free Screen Based Simulation Centre, where medical and surgical gastroenterologists use virtual reality to acquire mastery of endoscopy and laparoscopic surgery prior to engaging in live procedures. More recently, Professor Epstein has introduced new and minimally-invasive assessment tools and founded a new 'Institute for Minimally Invasive Gastroenterology (IMIGe)' at the Royal Free. He is director of the IMIGe Academy for Capsule Endoscopy which teaches aspiring capsule practitioners. Professor Epstein is award-winning and, over the years, has received research grants amounting to more than £1 million. He has contributed hugely to new medical technologies that change the patient's journey, and continues to do so.

Professor Epstein works out of the Royal Free PPU where he currently runs one of the UK’s leading PP colon capsule units. Professor Epstein is currently the lead clinician on the advisory panel of the new NHS England Colon capsule endoscopy colon cancer screening pilot (50000 patients)

He has also developed the capsule endoscopy curriculum(small and large intestine)  for teaching novice NHS England gastroenterologists how to read and report capsule endoscopy. He has mentored over 400 UK gastroenterologist as well as aspiring capsule readers in Europe, Hong Kong, West Africa and the Amercias.s.Professor Epstein is a regular invited speaker to  major international conferences on capsule endoscopy.

Over the past few years, Professor Epstein and his team have developed a unique investigation unit to monitor vagus nerve function in patients with IBS, functional dyspepsia and other  "functional disorders". This is based on a wearable device that continuously measures heart rate variability over 3 days to establish whether or not the there is a "software" disorder underlying unexplained or gastroenterology drug unresponsive disorders. He has considerable experience of offering  non invasive vagus nerve stimulation to appropriate patients with abnormal vagus nerve function (using gammaCore).

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