Are you dealing with epilepsy seizures that are not controlled with medications? Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a minimally invasive surgical option that may provide you with the seizure relief you long for. Vagus nerve stimulation sends regular, mild electrical pulses to the brain to control seizures. A wire is attached to the vagus nerve and then a pacemaker-like device is implanted in the chest to send the electrical pulses—this combination of device and wire makes it possible to stimulate the vagus nerve. Side effects of vagus nerve stimulation may include hoarseness, sore throat, coughing, infection, or bleeding. VNS is not recommended for people who have throat disorders.
As epilepsy experts skilled at diagnosing and treating epilepsy, neurosurgeons at Neurosurgery One use the most current evidence-based research to assess and recommend epilepsy surgery options that are best for you, your type of epilepsy, and your goals. We work closely with your neurologist to ensure your continuity of care. We pride ourselves on giving you all the information so you can determine what epilepsy treatment options are right for you.
Vagus nerve stimulation is the most minimally invasive epilepsy surgical option and is reversible.
FAQs About Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
Continue reading below to learn more about vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information you are interested in:
- What is vagus nerve stimulation?
- How does VNS stimulate the vagus nerve?
- Am I a candidate for vagus nerve stimulation?
- What are the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation?
- What should I consider before choosing vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy?
- What is recovery like following vagus nerve stimulation?
Conditions We Treat
What is vagus nerve stimulation?
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a minimally invasive surgical option for epilepsy. Vagus nerve stimulation works to control seizures by sending consistent, gentle electrical pulses to the brain. Vagus nerve stimulation has been approved for epilepsy patients whose seizures are not controlled with medications.
While the VNS device is programmed to send consistent, regular nerve stimulations, you can also activate the device through a special magnet if you feel a seizure occurring. Newer technology enables the VNS device to respond to your heart rate.
How does VNS stimulate the vagus nerve?
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a type of neuromodulation, which stimulates nerves by disrupting abnormal behavior. The vagus nerve controls parts of the body like heart rate and breathing that are not under voluntary control.
Vagus nerve stimulation sends mild, consistent pulses of energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. VNS requires a device be implanted under the skin. A wire, also know as an electrode, that is connected to the device is then secured around the vagus nerve in the neck. This is how VNS stimulates the vagus nerve and controls seizures.
The device is programed in an outpatient setting. Epilepsy patients with VNS therapy typically do not notice the stimulation when it is occurring. Should you feel a seizure coming on, you can position a magnet over the device to send an extra pulse of electrical energy to the brain.
Am I a candidate for vagus nerve stimulation?
If you have epilepsy with focal or partial seizures that are drug resistant (not controlled by medications), you may benefit from vagus nerve stimulation. Some people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome have found benefits from vagus nerve stimulation.
What are the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation?
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been shown to reduce the length, frequency, and severity of seizures. As an adjunctive therapy, VNS requires continued medication use. Complete seizure elimination is not possible with the procedure, yet vagus nerve stimulation is an option for people who do not want to go through more invasive surgery. VNS is reversible and is the most minimally invasive of any epilepsy surgery.
Approximately 50% of patients undergoing vagus nerve stimulation experience a reduction of seizures within four months of surgery, with up to 60% of patients having positive results 2-4 years after surgery.
What should I consider before choosing vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy?
You should consider all of your epilepsy treatment options prior to moving forward with vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) or another epilepsy treatment. Will the benefits outweigh any risks associated with vagus nerve stimulation? Will you get the seizure control you desire?
Because VNS requires continued medication use, you should also consider any effects of medication on your quality of life. While vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy is the least invasive of any epilepsy surgical option, it also may only provide limited benefits, as compared to other epilepsy surgery options.
For patients who try vagus nerve stimulation and don’t find success, other epilepsy surgeries may still be options.
What is recovery like following vagus nerve stimulation?
Patients typically go home the same day as their vagus nerve stimulation epilepsy surgery. You may have a mild sore throat after the procedure and may be tired as the anesthesia wears off. Most patients have mild pain in the neck and chest at the incision points, which is easily managed with medications.
You can expect to feel fully recovered from vagus nerve stimulation surgery 1-2 weeks after the procedure. Your device will typically be programmed 2-4 weeks after surgery in an outpatient setting.