According to Dr. Jeffry P. Ricker, damage to the medulla oblongata can have fatal results. The medulla oblongata is a small part of the brain stem, about 1.5 inches in length, that regulates a number of autonomic processes, such as controlling the diameter of the body’s blood vessels, maintaining heart rate, and controlling reflexes such as swallowing and vomiting. The improper use of medications can also damage the medulla oblongata.
Because the medulla oblongata is primarily responsible for carrying out various autonomic functions, it is considered the most important part of the brain by BrainMadeSimple.com. Surgeons must be extremely careful to avoid damaging the medulla oblongata during brain surgery. While damage to other portions of the brain can often be repaired, damage to the medulla oblongata can be difficult to treat, as the structure is important to so many bodily functions.
About.com lists digestion, circulation and sneezing as other important functions of the medulla oblongata. The medulla oblongata also serves as a relay for the body’s nervous system. In this process, the medulla oblongata becomes the conduit through which the spinal column and brain send signals to each other. Without this connection, the spinal column and peripheral nervous system would not be able to communicate with each other.