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What is meant by Vagus nerve stimulation?

The vagus nerve is responsible for involuntary functions such as control of the body’s heart rate and digestive tract. The nerve runs from the lower part of the brain, through the neck, to various organs in the chest and abdomen, on both sides of your body. Damage or compression of the vagus nerve can lead to many conditions. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has been suggested in the treatment of depression and epilepsy, especially partial seizures (limited to a part of the brain) when medications have failed.

Procedure of Vagus nerve stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may take about 2 hours and is done under local or general anesthesia. Two incisions are made, one in your neck and the other in your chest. A pulse generator device is implanted in the left side of your chest and connected to the vagus nerve in your neck through a lead wire which passes under the skin. A few weeks after surgery, your doctor programs the generator to send electrical pulses at regular intervals and currents to your vagus nerve. With the help of a hand-held magnetic device, you will be able to turn on or off the generator when you think you are going to have a seizure.

VNS does not cure seizures but can reduce the intensity and number of attacks by as much as 30 to 50%. You may also recover much sooner from a seizure and experience a better quality of life. Side effects of the insertion and use of the VNS may include pain and infection at the surgery site, speech difficulty, cough, difficulty in swallowing and skin sensations. For best results, you are required to return to the clinic frequently so that the device can be monitored and adjustments made.