Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation can reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures that cannot be controlled with medication.

Vagus nerve stimulation is a type of neuromodulation that can prevent or lessen seizures by continually sending mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via a vagus nerve. A key component of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerves transmit motor and sensory signals to vital organs throughout the body and control many involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, digestion and blood circulation. There is one vagus nerve on each side of the body, running from the brainstem through the neck, chest and abdomen.

What Conditions Can Be Treated With Vagus Nerve Stimulation?

Vagus nerve stimulation is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating epilepsy and depression. Approximately one-third of the people who are diagnosed with epilepsy experience seizures that do not fully respond to anti-seizure medications. Additionally, vagus nerve stimulation may be helpful to patients who are diagnosed with depression that does not improve with antidepressant medications, psychotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy.

What Does Vagus Nerve Stimulation Involve?

Conventional vagus nerve stimulation involves the surgical implantation of a small, pulse-generating device under the skin on the chest. The device is connected to the left vagus nerve via a wire threaded under the skin. The right vagus nerve is not used for vagus nerve stimulation because it is more likely to carry fibers that control the heartbeat.

What to Expect After Vagus Nerve Device Implantation

A few weeks after surgery, the pulse generator is turned on during a follow-up visit with the physician. The device can then be programmed to deliver electrical impulses to the vagus nerve at various durations, frequencies and currents. When activated, the device sends mild electrical impulses along the left vagus nerve to the brainstem, which in turn sends signals to certain areas of the brain. Usually, vagus nerve stimulation begins at a low level and is gradually increased depending on the symptoms and side effects.

New vagus nerve stimulation devices that do not require surgical implantation are currently being evaluated for treating epilepsy, depression and pain. Additionally, a non-invasive device that stimulates the vagus nerve was recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of cluster headaches.

Is Vagus Nerve Stimulation Effective?

Many patients report an improvement in moods and a significant reduction in seizure intensity and frequency after vagus nerve stimulation.

Tampa General Hospital is proud to offer the latest treatment options for epilepsy, including vagus nerve stimulation. Accredited by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) as a Level 4 epilepsy center, TGH has the professional expertise and facilities necessary to provide the highest level of care and outcomes for patients who are diagnosed with seizure disorders.