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Vagal Nerve Stimulation Program

Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS) is a device about the size of a silver dollar, which is placed in the left chest in a manner similar to a pacemaker for the heart. The lead wires are subsequently tunneled to the neck area where the tips are wrapped around the vagus nerve.  Once implanted, the device is programmed to deliver a series of short electrical bursts of stimulation to the vagus nerve at various strengths and frequencies. The VNS does not work by sensing a seizure.  Instead, it works by repetitively stimulating the vagus nerve for a period of time and then by pausing for a period of time.

The VNS is also activated when a magnet is swept over the device.  For patients who can sense the start of a seizure (the aura of a seizure), this can stop the seizure. For patients who cannot sense the impending seizure, it can be useful for family and caretakers to shorten the seizure and allow for faster recovery of the patient.

Conditions and Procedures

  • Vagal Nerve Stimulation

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible for VNS therapy?
VNS is used for patients who suffer from partial onset seizures, meaning seizures that originate in one part of the brain.  If the seizures are frequent or disruptive, do not respond to at least two anti-epilepctic medications, and if the the patient is not a candidate for brain surgery or does not wish to have brain surgery, VNS may be a treatment option.

What are the advantages of VNS therapy?

It's hard to know in advance how effective VNS therapy will be in an individual with epilepsy.  If the therapy is successful, patients can expect less frequent seizure attacks, less duration of each seizure, and decrease in usage of anti-epileptic medications. It is unlikely for patients to fully stop all anti-epileptic medications after VNS therapy. 

Studies show that about one-third of people treated with VNS experience a major improvement in seizure control. One-third experience some improvement, and one-third continue to have seizures as before.

It should be noted that seizure improvement is unlikely to happen immediately after implantation.  In general one or more programming sessions and medication adjustments are necessary before optimized results are realized.

What is the cost of VNS therapy?

The operation for VNS therapy currently costs approximately $20,000.  Patients will need regular appointments with their neurologist to check the device and if needed, be programmed.  The cost of the device and surgery can change over time.

Currently, many insurance companies along with Medicare and most Medicaid carriers cover the cost of VNS therapy.

Do electronic devices such as iPods, cellular phones, or metal detectors interfere with VNS?

Based on the manufacturer, properly operated household electronics, cellular phones, and metal detectors should not affect the VNS generator.

If the therapy is not effective, can the device be turned off or removed?

VNS therapy is reversible.  The device can be turned off completely.  If desired, the system may be removed entirely by a separate procedure.

Does the VNS battery have to be replaced after a period of time?

The current VNS battery life ranges between six to 12 years depending on the program settings of the individual patient.  It is a good idea to check with your neurologist from time to time about battery life and when a replacement may be needed.