Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Some patients are not candidates for epilepsy surgery because their seizures may be originating from multiple locations, from both sides of the brain, or from an area that is too valuable to remove. For these patients, we may recommend a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS). Our epilepsy specialist can determine if this option is appropriate for you.

The VNS prevents seizures by sending regular small pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck. The electrical pulses are supplied by a device resembling a pacemaker. The VNS electrode is coiled around the left vagus nerve in the neck, and the wire runs under the skin to the stimulator, which is placed under the skin on the chest.

The flat, round stimulator is about the size of a silver dollar. The neurologist programs the electrical impulses according to your individual needs. We use a programming magnet to change the settings. For people who have warnings (auras) before their epileptic seizures, activating the stimulator with the magnet when the warning occurs may help stop the seizure.

You may feel a buzz in the throat or detect a slight voice change while the device is on, but not between stimulation periods. The stimulator’s battery lasts about 5 years. Long-term studies of patients receiving VNS show that it rarely eliminates seizures completely. Seizure frequency reduction may range from 20 to 60 percent. It may take one to two years to reach this level of reduction.

Locations Performing this Treatment