Are Your Heart Palpitations and Stomach Bloating Connected?
Does this describe you? You have visited various medical professionals for your heart palpitations and stomach bloating and received a clean bill of health. While you should be delighted that you don't have a disease, you still have the problems you came in with. Your stomach still bloats, and as if that weren't enough, as soon as it begins your heart starts pounding. You sometimes feel lightheaded. What is going on?
Please note that any unexplained stomach bloating should be evaluated by a medical professional to rule out serious diseases such as ovarian cancer.
How are stomach bloating, heart palpitations and the vagus nerve connected? To know the answer to this, we need to look closer at the vagus nerve.
What Is the Vagus Nerve?
Sometimes called "the wandering nerve," the vagus is a long cranial nerve that goes from the brain through the throat and into the abdomen, touching many important organs along the way (like the heart), and sending signals from the body to the brain.1 It is what's known as a "mixed" nerve, meaning it contains both sensory and motor fibers, and transmits information both from the brain to the body and vice versa.
The vagus nerve plays an important role in a wide variety of unconscious body processes, like regulating the heart rate and digestion. Modern biology has linked problems with the vagus nerve to many different kinds of disorders, from depression to digestion issues.2
The Irritated Vagus Nerve: How the Heart and the Stomach Are Connected
Heart palpitations have been tied to digestive disorders like IBS as well as simple cases of indigestion.3, 4 And since the vagus nerve is connected both with the digestive system and heart regulation, it is possible that excessive gas and bloating as well as an increased heart rate may both be affected by, or connected by, the vagus nerve. Some have termed this "vagus nerve irritation," though it is not entirely clear what causes this set of reactions — be it nerve irritation or some other signal the nerve is interpreting.
Do you notice you tend to bloat in the afternoon? Do you notice that symptoms subside when you burp? Is it worse in stressful situations or when you're sleep-deprived? If so, your digestive system may be what's causing your heart to flutter.
Home Remedies for Digestive Problem-Induced Heart Palpitations
The goal of all of these is to improve your digestive health and reduce bloating and inflammation, which hopefully will also improve your heart palpitations or racing heart. Everyone's body is different, so you may need to try a few different strategies to find the one that works for you. Always ask your doctor before taking any new supplement or making radical changes to your diet.
- Ginger capsules: Ginger has been used for thousands of years to treat disorders relating to digestion, especially to nausea stomach upset, and diarrhea.5 Though not well studied, 550 milligrams of ginger root taken three times a day with meals may calm your bloating. If the vagus nerve itself has become inflamed, ginger may help since it has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory properties.
- Burping: Reducing the swelling of the abdomen may provide some comfort. Over-the-counter products like Simethicone will break up gas bubbles and prompt burping them out. This is a handy short-term fix.
- Change positions: Take the pressure off your stomach by shifting your position or walking around and bending if possible. Trapped gas can escape if you move around. Again, experiment. You will find the positions that work best for you.
- Deep breathing: Depression and anxiety can be associated with vagus nerve disorder,6 so try to relax (easier said than done, I'm well aware). Try deep breathing or meditation.
- Diet: This is a big one: very effective but hard to gauge. The bloating that likely caused the irritation in the first place could be caused by a food sensitivity. Removing the offender could resolve the problem entirely. Common digestive irritants are gluten and dairy. Eating habits like gulping your food or overeating can also cause gas.7
- Chew your food: Chewing food thoroughly releases enzymes in saliva that will travel with the food into the digestive system, assisting with its breakdown. Food arriving with insufficient enzymes will not be properly digested, resulting in bloating.7
- Digestive enzymes: As you age, enzyme production decreases. If your enzyme levels are too low, supplementation will assist the digestive process. If that is the cause of the problem, taking an enzyme supplement will make it immediately apparent.8
- Probiotics: Support your digestion by taking probiotic supplements daily. You can also replenish your gut flora with a diet rich in cultured and fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kombucha. If you are lactose intolerant, try kefir.7
- Keep your bowels moving: If you tend toward constipation, taking a high quality magnesium supplement can help. It is important that you spend some money on this one and not buy the cheapest brand in the grocery store. There are many different types of magnesium and some are more bio-available than others. Here's a link that explains the differences. I use Triple Mag 250. Also eat plenty of fiber and drink a lot of water throughout the day.9
Wishing You Good Health
Scientists are still trying to understand exactly how the vagus nerve affects our health — it's possible that you're experiencing something that has yet to be understood or explained fully. Research into the vagus nerve and its affects on our day-to-day life and the potential to use it has just begun.
That said, hopefully this has helped you understand a little bit more about what's happening in your body. Always remember that any on-going medical condition should be evaluated by a medical professional.
Best of health to you!
- Tewfik, Ted L. "Vagus Nerve Anatomy." August 17, 2015. Medscape. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- "The Importance of the Vagus Nerve for Health and Weight Loss." (n.d.) Paleo Leap. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — Symptoms." (n.d.) WebMD. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- "Heart Palpitations." (n.d.) Kaiser Permanente. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Ehrlich, Steven D, NMD. "Ginger." June 22, 2015. University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- O'Reardon, John P, MD. "Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) and Treatment of Depression: To the Brainstem and Beyond." May 2016. Psychiatry (Edgmont). Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Zelman, Kathleen M, MPH, RD, LD. "10 Flat Belly Tips." 2017. WebMD. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Laugier R, Bernard J, Berthezene P, Dupuy P. "Changes in pancreatic exocrine secretion with age: pancreatic exocrine secretion does decrease in the elderly." 1991. Digestion. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Marcin, Ashley. Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD. How to Use Magnesium Citrate for Constipation. April 7, 2016. Healthline. Accessed August 17, 2017.
© 2013 Deb Maselli