Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) for Epilepsy.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a type of neuromodulation.

It is designed to change how brain cells work by giving electrical stimulation to certain areas involved in seizures.

The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions of the body that are not under voluntary control (such as heart rate and breathing). The vagus nerve sends information from the brain to other areas of the body. It also carries information from the body to the brain

Research has shown that VNS may help control seizures by:

  • Increasing blood flow in key brain areas.
  • Raising levels of some brain substances (called neurotransmitters) important to control seizures.
  • Changing EEG (electroencephalogram) patterns during a seizure.
  • 8 out of 10 people with epilepsy may have an increase in their heart rate before a seizure.

In the newer VNS models (AspireSR® and SenTiva), a fast increase in heart rate can be picked up. This triggers an extra burst of stimulation to help stop these seizures.

These models may be especially helpful for people who are not aware of when seizures happen, if seizures are not witnessed, or if seizures occur at night.

This therapy does not cure epilepsy. It’s designed to help control seizures by lessening the number and severity of seizures.

Initially, people with VNS had an average decrease in seizures by 28% in the first 3 months. A review of 65 people who had VNS for 10 years or more, showed improvements in seizure control over time. Seizures decreased by 36% after 6 months, 58% after 4 years, and 75% by 10 years after the VNS was placed.

Other ways VNS may help people were reported in a study of 112 adults with focal epilepsy that did not respond to medicines.

People were placed in two groups:

1) VNS therapy and best medical practice, or

2) No VNS but received best medical practice. Information was collected over a 1-year period.

Results of this study showed:

Recovery time after a seizure may be shorter for some people. 8 of 10 people reported an improved quality of life. About 6 of 10 reported less worry about seizures and improved quality of life.

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Information source: Epilepsy Foundation .

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