Seizures occur when there is a sudden malfunction or “short circuit” in the nerves that carry electrical signals from the brain to the body. Depending on the location of this abnormal electrical activity within the brain, different physical symptoms can occur.
The VNS Therapy System works like a pacemaker to help control these electrical signals. The VNS Therapy generator is implanted just under the skin in the upper chest. Two thin, flexible wires are attached to the left vagus nerve in the neck. The generator sends small electrical pulses to the vagus nerve, which then delivers the pulses to the brain. This gentle stimulation helps to prevent the electrical irregularities within the brain that cause seizures. The VNS Therapy™ system is implanted in a simple procedure that usually takes about one hour. This minor surgery is usually performed using general anesthesia, and patients can go home the same day.
The procedure does NOT involve brain surgery. To perform the implant, the surgeon makes two incisions:
- One on the upper chest area or under the arm, for the pulse generator
- One on the left side of the neck for the thin, flexible wires that connect the pulse generator to the vagus nerve
The incisions heal in one to two weeks, and the scars fade over time. The neck scar is usually located within a natural crease of the skin and becomes nearly invisible. Most insurance plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) cover VNS Therapy and the implant procedure for patients with seizure disorders.
As with any surgery, there is some risk of infection. However, the risk is very low—about the same as in other implant procedures. After the surgical incisions have healed, your doctor or nurse will activate the VNS Therapy generator. The timing and amount of stimulation you receive will be programmed at that time.
As soon as your VNS Therapy system is activated, it will provide therapy automatically, day after day. You do not have to worry about VNS Therapy interacting with medications. The dose settings impact how long the battery will last. For example, the battery may last up to three years at a higher setting, compared with eight years at a lower setting.
Although it is used in addition to medication, VNS Therapy is NOT a drug, and does not cause the kinds of side effects you would expect from anti-seizure drugs. Most side effects from VNS Therapy are mild and include:
- Temporary hoarseness/changes in voice tone
- Tickling in the throat
- Shortness of breath
These side effects usually occur during the stimulation periods, and typically decrease over time. Please call our office if you have any additional questions or would like more information about VNS for seizure control.