Vagal reflexes referred from the upper aerodigestive tract: An infrequently recognized cause of common cardiorespiratory responses

Emmett T. Cunningham, William J. Ravich, Bronwyn Jones, Martin W. Donner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the physiologic basis for normal and abnormal vagal reflexes arising from the pharynx, larynx, and esophagus, as well as the relevance of vagal reflexes to the pathogenesis of such clinically common cardiorespiratory responses as bradycardia, tachycardia, dysrhythmia, coronary angiospasm, bronchospasm, laryngospasm, prolonged apnea, and singultus (hiccups). Data Sources: Pertinent articles and reviews were identified through a MEDLINE search (April 1966 to October 1991). Older studies and others not identified in the MEDLINE search were found through a manual search of the bibliographies of the retrieved articles. Study Selection: Experimental studies in both humans and animals, as well as case series and single case reports, were selected for evaluation and citation. In instances where a similar phenomenon was described in multiple independent reports, only studies that provided a novel finding or interpretation were cited. More authoritative book chapters and peerreviewed summaries were also cited in support of commonly accepted principles. Data Extraction and Synthesis: Most of the clinical data are derived from case reports and small case series and are therefore anecdotal; equal weight was given to all such studies. Reports of conflicting observations or interpretations were clearly identified and were cited without exception. Conclusions: Stimulation of the upper aerodigestive tract can lead to clinically significant cardiorespiratory responses. Although the prevalence of and risk factors for such responses have not been established, we suggest that a pharyngeal, a laryngeal, or an esophageal source for abnormal cardiorespiratory responses be sought whenever a detailed clinical evaluation fails to reveal a cause, particularly when there are concurrent symptoms or signs of upper aerodigestive tract disease, such as dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-582
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Vagal reflexes referred from the upper aerodigestive tract: An infrequently recognized cause of common cardiorespiratory responses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this