Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS)

The vagus nerve is a large nerve in your neck. Vagus nerve stimulation uses short, pulsing bursts of electricity to treat seizures. VNS sends electrical energy from a small, implanted battery through the vagus nerve to the brain.

VNS requires that a battery just larger than a quarter and tiny leads (wrapped in silicone) be implanted under your skin.

What to Expect

Implantation of the battery and electrical leads takes about an hour. You may be put to sleep, or you may just be given local anesthesia to numb the area of implantation. The surgeon makes a small incision in the neck and another in your chest or underarm area. The VNS device is placed under the skin of your chest. The small leads are threaded under the skin from the neck incision to the device. The surgeon then wraps electrodes on the leads around the vagus nerve.

Your doctor may turn on your VNS device just after your surgery or may wait for your follow-up visit. He or she will program the device to produce electrical pulses on a 24-hour schedule. You will be shown how to trigger the electrical stimulation with a magnet when you feel a seizure coming on.

How it Works

Each time the VNS battery generates energy, that energy is sent through the leads and electrodes into the vagus nerve and on to your brain. The electric energy prevents some seizures and makes others less severe.

Typically, a VNS battery lasts about 6 years. Typically, replacing the battery is a simple procedure that requires only 1 incision. The device can be reprogrammed if your doctor decides to change the schedule of stimulation.

Generally, VNS is not used for people younger than 12 or people whose seizures can be controlled by medication. Often, brain surgery is recommended before VNS.