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What Is Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) for Epilepsy?

Learn about vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, to treat epilepsy from Steve Wolf, MD and Patty McGoldrick, NP in this Howcast video.


One of the options for treatment of epilepsy is a sort of epilepsy surgery that involves placing a pacemaker. This is called a vagus nerve stimulator. This little tiny pacemaker is placed in your chest wall and then it has leads that are threaded up around your vagus nerve. And what it does is it shoots electricity up the vagus nerve that controls or helps to reduce seizure activity in the brain by changing the neurotransmitters. What you have to think of the vagus nerve stimulator as just another type of medications, because we implant this device, we start at a very low setting. And what happens is each month or every two weeks, you'll go to the neurologist's office, and he or she will adjust the amount of electrical stimulation to help try to control the seizures. This has an efficacy of about one third of the patients seizures have totally stopped, one third they improve the seizures by more than 50%, and one third it doesn't work at all. So you need to have a conversation with your neurologist whether this is a good option for you. So again, a vagus nerve stimulator is a pacemaker that's implanted in your chest wall, shoots electricity into your brain to cut down on the seizures. The other good thing about this pacemaker is it comes with a magnet that the person can wear on their wrist or the caregivers can have, and when the patient or the caregiver sees or feels a seizure occurring, they can give an extra swipe of the magnet across the pacemaker, which gives some added electricity and will abort the seizure before it takes place. So this is another option for control of seizures that you can discuss with your neurologist and your neurosurgeon.

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