Some people who suffer from epilepsy do not respond to medications or surgery. One alternative is vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS Therapy. The vagus nerve is responsible for the following:
- It sends information from your neck, chest, and stomach to the brain.
- It sends information back from the brain to these regions.
- It controls breathing and speech.
- It regulates heartbeats.
- It regulates stomach movements during digestion.
How was VNS Therapy discovered?
In the 19th century, scientists discovered that applying pressure to the carotid artery could stop seizures. Later, researchers found that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can decrease seizures in animals. This was followed by clinical human trials. In 1997, the FDA approved the procedure as a therapeutic intervention for intractable focal or partial epilepsy in people 12 years of age and over.
How does VNS Therapy work?
A device is place under the skin near the collarbone in the left side of the chest. Then, an electrode attached to a generator is connected to the vagus nerve in the left side of the neck. Stimulation delivered from the generator in the chest to the vagus nerve is pre-programmed. Trained nurses and doctors can adjust the settings. If a seizure happens, a magnet can be used to trigger bursts of stimulation.
Facts about VNS
Before considering VNS Therapy, you should have as much information as possible. Here are some essential facts:
- The number of individuals with implanted VNS devices, worldwide, is more than 60,000.
- It does not interact with medications.
- There is no evidence that it affects fertility or causes harm to a developing baby during pregnancy.
- The device can be activated by swiping a magnet, worn like a wrist watch, over it when a seizure occurs.
Side effects are mild. They include hoarseness and coughing, tingling and shortness of breath. It seems this happens after a person has gotten used to the stimulation. In the first year, research shows this occurs in up to 29% of people in the first year. By the third year, that number drops to 3%.