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Vagus nerve stimulation therapy is another form of treatment

that may be tried when medications fail to stop seizures. It is

currently approved for use in adults and children over the age

of 12 who have partial seizures that resist control by other

methods. The therapy is designed to prevent seizures by

sending regular small pulses of electrical energy to the brain

via the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck.

The energy is delivered by a flat, round battery, about the size

of a silver dollar, which is surgically implanted in the chest

wall. Thin wires (electrodes) are threaded under the skin and

wound around the vagus nerve in the neck. The battery is

programmed by the health team to send a few seconds of

electrical energy to the vagus nerve every few minutes. If the

person with the system feels a seizure coming on, he or she

can activate the discharge by passing a small magnet over the

battery. In some people, this has the effect of stopping the

seizure. It is also possible to turn the device off by holding the

magnet over it.

Side effects of VNS therapy are mostly hoarseness and,

sometimes, discomfort in the throat. There may be a change

in voice quality during the actual stimulation. Although

complete seizure control is seldom achieved, the majority of

people who use VNS therapy experience fewer seizures. In

some its effectiveness increases with time, and patients report

an improved quality of life. As with surgery and the ketogenic

diet, it will almost always be necessary

to continue anti-epileptic medication although the patient

should be able to take less medication than in the past.

Additional Information about Treatment:

Additional epilepsy information is available on these pages:


Raymond Rybicki, MD

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