What is VNS Therapy?
What is the vagus nerve?
How does VNS Therapy work?
Who is suitable for VNS Therapy?
What does the VNS Therapy device look like?
How many people have had VNS Therapy?
If I have VNS Therapy, will I still need to take medications?
What sort of procedure is involved with implanting the device?
Does the implantation hurt?
Are there risks linked with the surgery?
Will my neurologist perform the procedure?
Will I see the device after it is implanted?
Does the device work immediately?
What will happen when the battery in my VNS Therapy device runs out?
Is VNS Therapy safe for pregnant women?
What will happen if VNS Therapy doesn't work for me?
What is the function of the patient magnet?
Will electrical and electronic equipment affect the VNS Therapy device?
Will metal detectors (such as airport security) affect the VNS Therapy device?
VNS is short for vagus nerve stimulation — that is, stimulation of the nerve responsible for relaying messages between the brain and certain parts of the body. VNS Therapy is used together with epilepsy medications to reduce the number and intensity of seizures in difficult-to-treat epilepsy.
The vagus nerve is a major communications link between the body and the brain. It sends sensory
and motor information from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. There is one
nerve on each side of the body. For the purpose of VNS Therapy, the left vagus nerve is
A pacemaker-like device (called a generator) sends mild stimulation through a flexible wire (called a lead) that is connected to the left vagus nerve, which then carries this message the rest of the way to the brain. In this way, VNS Therapy helps control the type of brain activity that often leads to seizures — without any brain surgery.
Adults and children who continue to have seizures despite treatment with two or more
medications and have side effects that are difficult to tolerate may benefit from
adding VNS Therapy to their treatment plan. If multiple medications have not
given you acceptable, ongoing seizure relief, it may be time to consider a different
treatment option like VNS Therapy.
VNS Therapy uses a small pacemaker-like medical device (the pulse generator) that sends small
electrical pulses to the left vagus nerve in the neck via a lead and electrodes.
VNS Therapy has been available in Europe since 1994. To date, more than 70,000 people with
epilepsy have used VNS Therapy worldwide.
VNS Therapy is an added treatment to your current epilepsy medications. It is not a replacement for them. Some people in clinical trials were able to reduce their epilepsy medications over time. You and your doctor will determine your ongoing treatment plan. It is important to always follow your doctor's recommendations about your epilepsy medications.
VNS Therapy is not brain surgery. Implanting the device involves a simple surgical procedure that
requires only two small incisions (in the neck and in the left chest area). It is a short procedure
usually done under general anaesthesia and entails only a short stay in the hospital.
After the surgery, you may feel some pain where the incisions have been made. This will only
last for a few days and your doctor or nurse may recommend painkillers for this short period of
Even a minimally invasive outpatient procedure has some level of risk. It is important that you discuss this question with your surgeon. However, VNS Therapy has a very long and well-understood safety profile.
No, specially trained surgeons will perform the VNS Therapy procedure. An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist; a neurosurgeon; or a general surgeon will perform the surgery. But you will continue to see your neurologist afterwards for help with your medication and VNS Therapy dose adjustments.
Apart from tiny scars, which fade with time and blend in with the natural fold of your neck, and a slight bulge in your chest, the device is hardly noticeable.
Usually not. In most cases, there is a 2-week recovery period before the generator is turned on. Then, your neurologist will adjust your dose settings during routine office visits over time. The goal of adjusting your dose is to give you the greatest effectiveness with the fewest side effects.
A minor procedure will replace the generator once the battery runs out. This requires only one incision and typically takes less than an hour to perform.
Although the safety and effectiveness have not been established during pregnancy, healthy births have been reported with VNS Therapy. If you want to become pregnant or you are pregnant, talk to your doctor.
If VNS Therapy has not helped you after 1 or 2 years, or you and your doctor think VNS Therapy isn’t working, you have several choices. The device can be turned off and remain in your chest. The generator may also be removed through a minor procedure, if you prefer or your doctor recommends it. Important: if you have VNS Therapy, you are still a candidate for any new treatment in the future, such as new procedures or medications.
The patient magnet may be used on top of stimulation for extra control. The patient magnet may be placed over the generator before or during a seizure to help stop it or decrease its intensity, as well as shorten the recovery period. You can also use the patient magnet to temporarily stop stimulation for activities in which even mild side effects are not desired (e.g., public speaking, singing, exercising, etc.). If you experience severe and lasting side effects, contact your doctor. Use of the magnet is not required to receive VNS Therapy.
In general, household appliances such as microwave ovens, toasters, hair dryers, and cell phones will not affect the generator or lead. It may be unsafe to use certain MRI machines while on VNS Therapy. You should never get an MRI if you have a broken lead. Before any MRI, always talk to the doctor and the medical staff about your VNS Therapy device. A full list of warnings and precautions is included in the Patient’s Manual in the Patient Essentials Kit, which you will receive after the procedure.
Antitheft devices and metal detectors should not affect the generator or be affected by it. Just to be safe, however, move through them at a steady pace; do not stay too long in the area. You will be provided with an ID card and may even wish to notify security that you have an implanted device.