Department of Neurology

Vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy

Q: I have a 16 year old son contemplating the vagus nerve stimulator device. What are some usual side effects; percentage of "total" cures, percentage of "partial" cures, percentage of total failures. He has uncontrolled complex partial seizures since he was 16. He has been subjected to every new drug therapy that has come down the line with very limited success. He is a not a good surgical candidate. Our options seem limited. Any anecdotal evidence would also be welcome. Thanks, Clare.

A: The Neurocybernetic Prosthesis (NCP, vagus nerve stimulator) is an excellent option for persons with epilepsy that cannot be controlled by medications, especially when epilepsy surgery is not feasible. It was approved for use by the FDA in the summer of 1997. Vagus nerve stimulation therapy has very few side effects, which is one of its strongest features. Most side effects relate to hoarseness and tingling at the throat; the latter subsides within a few days. It does not appear to cause drowsiness, fatigue and cognitive impairment like medications.

In long-term studies, about 40% of persons with medically-resistant epilepsy will have at least a 50% reduction of seizures. Only a small minority will become totally seizure-free. In our initial group of 17 patients, one has been seizure free for a year.

Our center has been highly involved with the NCP since early studies in 1992 and has participated in both of the multicenter trials that led to its approval. We also have been performing research on how this therapy may work. You can contact our office at (217)782-3013 for more information. You can also contact the manufacturer, Cyberonics at (800)255-4529 for the name of the epilepsy center nearest to you that is experienced in using this therapy.


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