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For Managing Epileptic Seizures

The vagus nerve stimulator is used in patients whose epileptic seizures are not well-controlled with medication. The stimulator is a battery-powered device. It is surgically implanted under the skin, similar to the implantation of a pacemaker. It is connected to the vagus nerve and delivers short bursts of electricity to the brain via the vagus nerve in the neck.

This device helps to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Improvement is often slow; it may take up to two years to see the full effect. Patients with a vagus nerve stimulator may need to stay on medication, but can often reduce the dosage. The vagus nerve stimulator may also improve other symptoms, such as depression and level of alertness.

Batteries in the device usually need to be replaced every five years. This is done via an outpatient surgical procedure.

Side effects are mild, such as:

  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Muscle twitching

A responsive neurostimulator (RNS) device is used in people whose epileptic seizures are not well-controlled with medication. The stimulator is a battery-powered device. It is surgically implanted under the scalp. It is connected to one or two wires that are placed where seizures occur within the person's brain.

The device detects abnormal electrical activity in the brain and delivers electrical stimulation before seizures symptoms occur. It helps to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Improvement is often slow; it may take up to two years to see the full effect.

Batteries in the device usually need to be replaced every three years. This is done via an outpatient surgical procedure.

Side effects include:

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you or your child:

  • Experience any unusual or severe symptoms or side effects
  • Do not experience any decrease in epileptic seizures

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 02/2014 -
  • Update Date: 02/17/2014 -
  • Epilepsy in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 11, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • Epilepsy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 11, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • FDA approves medical device to treat epilepsy. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm375041.htm. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • Jobst BC. Electrical stimulation in epilepsy: vagus nerve and brain stimulation. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2010;12:443-453.

  • NINDS Epilepsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm. Updated February 14, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • US approves antiepileptic brain implant. Epilepsy Research UK website. Available at: http://www.epilepsyresearch.org.uk/us-approves-antiepileptic-brain-implant/. Published November 15, 2013. Accessed February 17, 2014.