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?
What is the Vagus Nerve?
Sometimes called "the wandering nerve," the vagus is a long cranial nerve that goes from the brain to the heart to the stomach. It sends signals from the body to the brain to let the brain know how the body is doing. It is what's known as a "mixed" nerve, meaning the signals travel in both directions, not just one.
Because it receives and sends signals between the brain, the heart, and the stomach, an irritated vagus causes symptoms that vary widely from person to person and day to day. When irritated, it can cause a whole host of symptoms, including an irregular heartbeat and lightheadedness.
What Causes Irritation in the First Place?
You suspect you may have an irritated vagus nerve, but what's causing it?
One thing that can cause vagus nerve irritation is excess gas in your stomach. As your stomach expands, this sensitive nerve will come under pressure, sending haywire signals to your brain and heart. When the vagus cannot function properly, it may fail to transmit the crucial neurotransmitters (GABA and acetylcholine, for example) that act to lower your heart rate and quell other stress responses.
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, as the vagus nerve is unable to "reset" and calm your nervous system.
Home Remedies for Vagus Nerve-Induced Heart Palpitations
The goal of all of these is to improve your digestive health and reduce bloating and inflammation, thus calming the vagus nerve and allowing it to function properly. 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: 550 milligrams of ginger root taken three times a day with meals appears to calm the vagus nerve. Whether it calms the nerve by calming the stomach or calms the nerve directly doesn't really matter, as long as you get relief. I suspect it does a bit of both. Certainly ginger is known for being a tummy soother, but it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
- Burping: Reducing the swelling of the abdomen will take the pressure off the vagus nerve. 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 irritation, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/types-of-magnesium. I use Triple Mag 250. Also eat plenty of fiber and drink a lot of water throughout the day.
© 2013 Deb Maselli