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Vagal Nerve Stimulation Programming

What is VNS?

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS Therapy by Liva Nova) is a device used to prevent or reduce seizures. It can send regular, small pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve in the neck.

VNS has two parts that are placed during a surgical procedure.

  • A stimulator (also called generator) is implanted under the skin in the left chest area.
  • A thin wire or lead is wrapped around the left vagus nerve in the neck. The lead goes under the skin and connects to the stimulator.

There are different models of stimulators. The most recent one has ways to make programming easier. It can deliver stimulation in response to heart rate changes and time of day. Your epilepsy team will explain which VNS model will work best for you.

The vagus nerve sends information from the brain to other areas of the body and also carries information from the body to the brain. It’s not clear exactly how VNS works in the brain. It is designed to change how brain cells work by sending electrical impulses to certain areas involved in seizures.

How does it help?

  • VNS therapy is used together with seizure medications.
  • The VNS device is programmed in the outpatient clinic a few weeks after it is placed. You will need to come back to the clinic to have this adjusted over time.
  • It may take several weeks or months to find the best amount of stimulation. It also may take 1 to 2 years to know how well VNS works for you
  • A person with a VNS device is usually not aware of the stimulation while it is working.
  • If a person is aware of when a seizure happens, they can swipe a magnet over the generator in the left chest area to send an extra burst of stimulation to the brain. For some people this may help stop seizures.

Who can have VNS?

  • Are adults or children 4 years and older.
  • Have focal (partial) seizures that are not controlled after trying at least 2 seizure medicines. This is called drug-resistant or refractory epilepsy.
  • Are not able to have epilepsy surgery or surgery has not worked.
  • Have had testing at a comprehensive epilepsy center.