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Vagus Nerve Stimulator for Epilepsy

Epilepsy is defined as a brain disorder characterized by recurrent seizures. These episodes, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, vary in severity and frequency. While there is no cure for cure for epilepsy, there are excellent medications and treatments available to reduce and decrease the severity of seizures. Most children (in about 70 to 80 percent of cases) who have seizures are able to control the disorder by taking medication.

While most children have great success in living with epilepsy using medication, some may need additional treatment to control seizures. Children who have not responded to maximal medical therapy may be candidates for Vagus Nerve Stimulator placement.

The decision on whether to consider such treatment should be made by the parents, patient and the child's pediatric neurologist. Once a decision is made, our pediatric surgeons will discuss the surgical procedure with you in detail.

Vagus Nerve Stimulator Placement
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) involves implanting a small stimulator that generates pulses of electricity to the vagus nerve. This nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves. It exits the brain at the base of the skull and travels down the neck, conducting impulses between the brain and various body structures, mostly in the head and neck.

It has been discovered that delivering small quantities of electricity in a specific frequency via the vagus nerve to the base of the brain can, in some patients, can reduce the severity and frequency of partial-complex seizures. Approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1997, VNS devices have been implanted by pediatric surgeons at WakeMed since 2001.

While the patient is under general anesthesia, a pacemaker-sized stimulator device is surgically implanted just under the skin in the upper part of the chest. A wire is run under the skin from the stimulator to an electrode attached to the vagus nerve (via a tiny incision in the neck.) The device is programmed to deliver tiny pulses of electricity to stimulate the nerve. These settings can be readjusted in the doctor’s office based on the patient’s tolerance. The patient also has a hand-held device that can provide an immediate current to help stop or reduce the intensity of a seizure when it begins.

While most children will continue to take some medications, VNS can greatly reduce the amount that is needed.

Learn More About What to Expect from VNS