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What is vagus nerve stimulation?

Vagus nerve stimulation prevents seizures by sending gentle pulses of electricity to the brain through the vagus nerve. These pulses are supplied by a device similar to a pacemaker. 

Why it's done

Vagus nerve stimulation is used to treat epilepsy when medication and other treatments don’t work. Occasionally, vagus nerve stimulation is used as a treatment for major depression that doesn’t respond to typical therapies. Studies are currently being done on vagus nerve stimulation as a potential treatment for other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, pain, headaches and Alzheimer's disease.

Our approach

At Cohen Children’s, we have extensive experience in treating children who suffer from seizures due to epilepsy. Vagus nerve stimulation is a popular treatment choice among parents because it does not involve brain surgery and is safe and effective. Our pediatric neurologists will customize a course of treatment for your child that may involve vagus nerve stimulation, as we have seen many positive outcomes in children with epilepsy who do not respond to medication.

What to expect

The surgery involves implanting a high capacity generator into the left chest area. The generator has a thin, flexible wire that automatically sends mild stimulation to the left vagus nerve in the neck at regular intervals. It requires a short outpatient procedure that typically takes an hour or two. Vagus nerve stimulation is considered a safe and effective way to treat seizures in people with epilepsy.

Possible side effects

Some of the side effects associated with vagus nerve stimulation include:

  • Throat pain, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems, especially during exercise
  • Abdominal pain or nausea
  • Tingling or prickling of the skin
  • Slowing of the heart rate (bradycardia)

For most people, the side effects are minor, tolerable and tend to decrease over time.

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