Vagus Nerve Stimulation

How It Works

Vagus Nerve Stimulation involves the implantation of a small device under the skin on teh chest under the collar bone. The device acts similar to a pacemaker, sending electrical signals to the brain via the vagus nerve. This periodic mild stimulation helps to control seizures in some patients, although research has yet to determine exactly how.

VNS is effective in controlling some forms of epilepsy when anti-epileptic drugs are inadequate (or produce intolerable side effects) or neurosurgery is not an option. In some cases, VNS has also been effective in stopping seizures.

Side Effects

Common side effects during stimulation:
  • a tingling sensation in the neck and/or
  • mild hoarseness of the voice
Other possible side-effects:
  • coughing,
  • voice alteration,
  • shortness of breath,
  • feelings of choking,
  • throat pain,
  • ear or tooth pain and
  • skin irritation or infection at the implant site.

VNS is a viable option for some children in some circumstances. Parents should speak to their child’s physician about the possibility of VNS.

Unlike many medications, there seems to be no significant intellectual, cognitive, behavioural or emotional side effects to VNS therapy.

Availability

In Canada, VNS is approved as an adjunctive therapy for some people with epilepsy. It is currently approved in more than 20 countries.

Reports from November 2000 state VNS is the second most common treatment for epilepsy in the United States.  Its effectiveness in controllign seizures is comparable to that of new AEDs, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

Cost

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will cover the cost of the surgical procedure but not the cost of the implant for residents of Ontario. However, hospitals are beginning to include this in their budgets on a very limited basis. Consult your neurologist for more information.

Click here to see more non-pharmaceutical treatment options.