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Surviving Vagus

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I’ve been to Vegas twice. Las Vegas is unionized hotel workers, dancing on the street in front of the fountain at the Bellagio, breakfast at a diner at 10pm, recycled air in hotels, too much audio and visual stimulation in the casinos, and water imported from other states. I can imagine going back, not for a business conference this time, but to see Prince at one of the small concerts during which he dances with the audience (which he might not be doing anymore) or maybe to go to a Star Trek convention.

The Vagus Connection

I spoke to a friend who knows a lot about physiology if the array of symptoms I had yesterday have anything in common. He said, “the vagus nerve.” So I spent some time looking it up.

(Warning: I used several internet sites of dubious reliability to put my thoughts together. The only thing that mitigates this drawback is that most of them say similar things because it is basic information about the nervous system.)

The vagus nerve is a parasympathetic nerve. It slows down the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, is responsible for peristalsis throughout the digestive tract, controls the gag reflex, helps regulate temperature and breathing as well as participating in many other functions. It also contains a lot of input nerves that tell the brain what is happening in the heart, the digestive tract, and in women, the uterus.

When it gets stimulated by a stressor (including too much input to the nerve from inside the body), it can cause fainting (from the drop in blood pressure), clammy skin, paleness, nausea or vomiting, weakness, confusion, ringing in the ears and several other problems.

There are a whole host of known triggers that can cause a vagal or vasovagal response, which in many cases results in fainting, but not necessarily. The ones that interested me include: extreme pain, standing up quickly, walking up or down stairs, tachycardia, digestive disturbances (including diarrhea), and dehydration. I’ve had vagal responses to each of these. I’ve fainted twice, both times while I was heading towards a bathroom with a case of diarrhea. I’ve had bouts of low blood pressure with slow but pounding heartbeat after climbing a flight of stairs. When I had the kidney stone in December, the severity of the pain caused me to get weak and pale and then vomit.

And then there is the prolonged response to the onset of my period, lasting from 2 to 6 hours. (I described the symptoms yesterday.) It could easily have been caused by the initial diarrhea or the extreme pain from the cramps.

Apparently, low blood pressure and dehydration make a vagal response much worse. I regularly suffer from low blood pressure. And I seem to be dehydrated no matter what or how much I drink. So on a morning like yesterday, I’m in terrible shape.

Symptoms of vagus nerve disorders include stomach and intestinal problems, difficulty swallowing, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure, muscle cramps and weakness, especially affecting the hands and sometimes causing difficulty walking.

As I read all this stuff, my mind was churning. But before I go on to my theory as to how it affects me, there is some interesting research on the parasympathetic nervous system and the menstrual cycle.

It seems that when healthy women were tested for changes in parasympathetic responses (back in the 1940s) over the course of their menstrual cycles, there was no discernible difference at different time points. More recently, in the 1990s, women with severe PMS showed increased parasympathetic activity in the week leading up to menstruation, generating a hypothesis that estrogen causes the increased activity.

This doesn’t help me much because my big vagal response (if that’s what it is) occurs on day 1 of my cycle, which is when my estrogen is at it’s lowest levels in my bloodstream. So then what’s going on? Well, one possibility is that I get a lot of intestinal upset with my period which might trigger a vagal response. That doesn’t explain why it lasts all day. (On the occasions that I actually fainted, the whole episode was over in less than an hour each time, even if I did feel weak the rest of the day.)

My current guess is that Bartonella has infected my vagus nerve. The reason I feel it most during my period is that my immune system changes at that point, activating the infection. Bartonella in my vagus nerve might also explain why all this got worse when I started coiling my head for Bartonella, and why I initially had so many problems walking, and why now, I have pain and weakness in my hands.

This is just tonight’s theory.

Coiling

I’ve skipped another day because I feel too weak to ask my body to detox from it.

Detox

I took it easy today because my digestive tract is still topsy turvy.

  • kombucha
  • skin brushing
  • BioMat
  • castor oil pack on abdomen

Body

No night sweats last night, but I woke up this morning a little damp.

I was pretty wiped out this morning. I felt weak. The hand pain was through the roof. I didn’t want to eat. Then I got a little hungry, so I ate. Then I was nauseated for an hour. (This process repeated every time I ingested food.) I’ve been pretty nauseated all day, to the point that it impedes my concentration on anything else.

I’m achy in my joints, especially my shoulders and my knees. My ears hurt. I feel like I have a lump in my throat. I’ve got eye floaters and a bit of a headache.

I went for a short walk today. I felt so exhausted by the time I was done. It’s hard to be this wiped out.

I remembered the first time I threw up with my period. I was 15 years old. The episode lasted maybe an hour, including the time to rest and recover. Now it’s a two day convalescence to get over the 6 hour trauma.

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