We yawn when we're tired. We yawn when we're bored. We yawn when we're on a plane and our head feels like it's about to explode from the inside. Yawning can be useful for alleviating pressure in the eardrums, as in the plane example, but more times than not, we yawn because we are drowsy. Excessive yawning, on the other hand, could be a symptom of a much larger problem.
Vasovagal reaction is the scientific term for excessive yawning. The reaction is caused by the action of a nerve, appropriately called the vagus nerve, on the blood vessels. Vasovagal reaction is commonly associated with heart problems, which could be very serious. What's interesting about the condition is that a person can excessively yawn, even when she is already drowsy or tired. So, for those who tend not to get enough sleep, understanding that there is a problem could be a problem in and of itself.
Types of Heart Conditions Associated with Vasovagal Reaction
There are two cardiovascular conditions that may be indicated by excessive yawning; heart attack and aortic dissection. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a heart attack happens when the blood to a part of the heart is blocked. This blockage prevents a sufficient amount of oxygen from getting to the heart, thus killing or permanently damaging the heart muscle. Aortic dissection on the other hand is a condition where there is bleeding in and around the aorta, the main artery in the heart.
Diagnosis for Excessive Yawning
If you find that you yawn more often than you normally do but you are not tired, you may be having a Vasovagal Reaction. If this is the case, it's best to see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor may ask you questions related to your yawning and sleep habits. He'll want to know how many times you yawn per hour on a daily basis, if the yawning changes throughout the day, or if there are certain times and places when your yawning is worse meaning do certain activities or medications trigger a more severe attack.
If the doctor cannot conclude what, if any, physical symptoms could be causing the excessive yawning, they may want you to participate in a sleep study. Sleep studies measure blood oxygen levels, heart rate, rapid eye movement, muscle activity and brain waves in an attempt to diagnose whether your excessive yawning is due to a sleep disorder.