Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can be an option to help reduce the frequency of seizures in people who haven’t achieved epileptic seizure control through medications.
The vagus nerve originates in the brain and travels through the neck, chest, and abdomen, connecting and serving many of the body’s organs, including your voice box, lungs, heart, and digestive system.
The VNS procedure involves implanting a device – similar to a heart pacemaker – that produces electrical signals that help prevent epileptic seizures.
VNS is an add-on therapy, which means you use it in addition to another type of treatment. It doesn’t replace the need for anti-epileptic medication but you may be able to lower the dose over time.
Vagus nerve stimulation is performed by a neurosurgeon and usually takes about 45-90 minutes with the patient most commonly under general anesthesia. It is typically performed on an outpatient basis.
During the procedure, the surgeon will make two small incisions. The first one is made on the upper left side of the chest where the surgeon will insert the pulse generator device, which is about the size of a silver dollar, under the skin.
A second incision is made horizontally on the left side of the lower neck and a thin, flexible wire that connects the pulse generator to the vagus nerve is inserted. The stimulator is then programmed to send out electrical pulses at regular intervals. Depending on your individual circumstances, your doctor can adjust the settings accordingly. You will also be given a handheld magnet that you can use to create a current of electricity to stop a seizure as it happens or make it less severe.