Vagus nerve stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation is a procedure that stimulates the vagus nerve with electrical impulses. Vagus nerve stimulation can be used to treat epilepsy when other treatments haven't worked. Vagus nerve stimulation is also a treatment for depression, and it's being studied for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, migraine and Alzheimer's disease.

There's one vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen.

With vagus nerve stimulation, a device is surgically implanted under the skin on your chest. A wire is threaded under your skin connecting the device to the left vagus nerve. When activated, the device sends electrical signals along the vagus nerve to your brainstem, which then sends signals to certain areas in your brain.

Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

Many people with epilepsy don't respond to anti-seizure drugs. Vagus nerve stimulation may be an option to reduce the frequency of seizures in people who haven't been helped by medications.

Vagus nerve stimulation may also be helpful for people who haven't responded to standard depression treatments, such as antidepressant medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy).

When vagus nerve stimulation may be a good option

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved vagus nerve stimulation for people who:

  • Are 12 and older
  • Have focal (partial) epilepsy
  • Have seizures that aren't well controlled with medications

In addition, the FDA has approved vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of depression in adults who:

  • Have chronic, hard-to-treat depression (treatment-resistant depression)
  • Haven't improved after trying four or more medications or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or both
  • Continue standard depression treatments along with vagus nerve stimulation

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