Vagus Nerve Stimulation

What is vagus nerve stimulation?

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a treatment that reduces the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures. VNS is a treatment option for children with drug-resistant epilepsy.  

How does vagus nerve stimulation work?

VNS attempts to control seizures by sending small pulses of energy to the brain from the vagus nerve, which is a large nerve in the neck. This is done by surgically placing small wires around the vagus nerve in the neck. These wires are connected to a small generator under the skin of the chest.

The VNS is programmed by a healthcare professional in the office using a computer. There are a few ways a VNS may help with seizure control. The stimulator is programmed to turn on every few minutes throughout the day with the goal of reducing the number of seizures the patient experiences. The patient and family are also given a magnet to use when the child begins to have a seizure in hopes of shortening the event.  

Complete control of seizures is not expected with VNS, but approximately 50% of patients have a 50% reduction in seizures after one to two years. In some children, seizures are shorter, or the postictal state (the period between when a seizure ends and when the child returns to their baseline) is shorter. Other improvements in quality of life have been reported.

Who is a candidate for vagus nerve stimulation?

Children with epilepsy that affects the quality of life for them and their family, and who have persistent seizures despite medication may be candidates for vagus nerve stimulation therapy.

An evaluation by an epilepsy specialist can help determine if VNS therapy is a reasonable treatment option.  

Side effects of vagus nerve stimulation

There are some temporary side effects that may occur with the use of VNS. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • hoarseness
  • cough
  • discomfort in the throat
  • change in voice

These stimulation side effects are temporary and can always be reduced by changing stimulation levels.  

Learn more

If your child is not already under the care of a neurologist with CHOP's Neuroscience Center and you would like to explore the possibility of VNS treatment, contact us for a second opinion consultation.

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