Division of Neurosurgery   
Phone: 217-545-8000
FAX: 217-545-0253 
Email: neurosurgery@siumed.edu 
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Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is one of 12 pairs of cranial nerves that originate in the brain and is part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body functions. The nerve passes through the neck as it travels between the chest and abdomen and the lower part of the brain. It is connected to motor functions in the voice box, diaphragm, stomach and heart, and sensory functions in the ears and tongue. It is connected to both motor and sensory functions in the sinuses and esophagus.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) sends regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve, through a device that is similar to a pacemaker. There is no physical involvement of the brain in this surgery and patients cannot generally feel the pulses. It is important to keep in mind that VNS is a treatment option limited to select individuals with epilepsy or treatment-resistant depression

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved VNS as a seizure treatment in 1997. VNS may be considered as a treatment option in patients who have tried two or more anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) without adequate control of their seizures, or in patients who have not responded to AEDs and cannot undergo brain surgery. It is important to keep in mind that VNS is used in conjunction with AEDs, not instead of them. VNS can take up to two years to have an effect on a patient’s seizures. If VNS proves effective, it may enable a patient to decreases dosages of AEDs over time.

The goal of VNS is to reduce the number, length and severity of seizures. VNS may also reduce the time it takes to recover after a seizure. However, VNS is not successful in all patients. The success of this treatment differs – some patients report less frequent seizures, others report a slight reduction, while some patients do not respond at all. The following results have been noted in select patients with epilepsy:

Surgery – VNS