Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Some children with seizures that cannot be controlled with medication may find vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) helpful. VNS uses a pacemaker-like device to send regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. Our epilepsy team was among the first to perform this less invasive surgical option that can reduce seizures in about one-third of patients.

The VNS device is sometimes called a “pacemaker for the brain.” It is about the size of a silver dollar and is implanted while your child is under general anesthesia. The surgeon first makes an incision along the outer side of the chest on the left side, and the device is implanted under the skin. Then a second incision is made in the lower neck, along a crease of skin, and the wire from the stimulator is wound around the vagus nerve, which travels to the brain. The brain itself is not involved in the surgery.

The strength and the frequency of the device’s impulses will depend on the child’s needs and tolerance. The patient does not usually feel the impulses. If the device needs to be reprogrammed at any time, this can be done in our epilepsy clinic.

Your child is also given a small magnet that can be held near the device to activate it if they feel a seizure coming on. In some cases, this will stop a seizure if used shortly after onset of the seizure.

There are some side effects that may occur with the use of VNS. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Hoarseness
  • Pain or discomfort in the throat
  • Change in voice

If necessary, the implant can be removed. However, the wire around the vagus nerve is permanent.

Talk with your child’s doctor to see if VNS is an option for seizure management.