Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS)

Vagal Nerve Stimulator involves mild electrical stimulation of the left vagus nerve in the neck. The vagus nerve stimulator sends electrical signals to electrodes (wires) that are attached to the vagus nerve. From the vagus nerve the signals travel up into the areas of the brain thought to be involved in causing seizures. Sending regular electrical signals to these parts of the brain may reduce the number or length of seizures, for some people.

It is usually only considered if a number of antiepileptic drugs have failed to fully control seizures and for people who are not suitable for, or who do not want to have, brain surgery.

The stimulator is a bit like a heart pacemaker. It is implanted under the skin in the person's upper chest. This means there is a small scar and lump on the chest where it lies. Electrodes are connected to the stimulator at one end and are coiled around the vagus nerve (in the neck) at the other end. This means there is a scar in the fold of the neck where the electrodes are implanted.

The doctor uses a computer to program the stimulator. The level of stimulation is slowly increased to a suitable level for each individual. Usually the stimulator gives 30 seconds of stimulation every five minutes during the day and night.

The stimulator has a battery inside it, which may last up to ten years. When the battery is low the stimulator needs to be replaced. This means having an operation similar to when the stimulator was put in.

What to expect

  • The morning of the procedure you will arrive from home.
  • You will be taken to the operating room where you will have anesthesia, then the neurosurgeon will insert the VNS.
  • After surgery you will be taken to the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit until stable.
  • You will be transferred to the medical floor for an overnight stay.
  • You will be discharged the following day.
  • You will have to come back to clinic in 2-4 weeks to have the VNS activated.