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Vagus Nerve Stimulation

What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?

When surgery to remove the exact part of the brain where a patient’s seizures originate is not an option, a neurostimulator may be an effective epilepsy treatment. This epilepsy treatment works by implanting a device, similar to a pacemaker, in the chest that can be programmed to send regular, mild electrical pulses through the left vagus nerve. The stimulator is currently FDA-approved to treat epilepsy, pain and depression. While it won’t cure epilepsy, it typically reduces the number and intensity of seizures. It is often used in conjunction with medication.

How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Works

Vagus nerve stimulation may be an option to reduce the frequency of focal and onset seizures in patients older than 4 who haven’t responded to medication or for patients who are not candidates for removal of the epileptic focus.

The vagus nerve is a long cranial nerve that runs from the brain stem to the abdomen. There are two – one on the right side and one on the left. They control involuntary functions, including digestion, respiration, heart rate, coughing, sneezing, and swallowing. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why the electrical stimulation can be effective in controlling seizures, but they suspect it may be from either increasing the blood flow or raising neurotransmitter levels.

What to Expect During the Procedure

Your doctor will perform what is typically an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia to insert a small device that can send electrical pulses periodically to help prevent seizures. Incisions will be made in the chest and the left side of the neck. The device, which is about the size of a stop watch, will be inserted in the upper chest and a wire runs up to the neck, where it attaches to the vagus nerve. Your doctor will turn on the device at an office visit following the procedure. It will be programmed with a specific cycle, depending on your condition and symptoms. A handheld magnet can be used to activate the device at other times, such as when the patient feels onset symptoms. It can take significant time to notice results from the device, and your doctor will closely monitor any changes.

What you can expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

UTHealth Houston Neurosciences brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. You will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.