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Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Epilepsy & Seizure Disorders

Vagus nerve stimulation uses the vagus nerve to send signals to the brain, telling it to stop the electrical activity that causes seizures in adults with epilepsy and seizure disorders. The vagus nerve travels from the brainstem, down the neck, and into the chest and abdomen. It influences the activity of many organs.

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Experts at NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center have performed about 1,700 vagus nerve stimulation procedures and are leaders in providing this treatment for people with epilepsy.

For this procedure, NYU Langone experts implant a stimulating device the size of a silver dollar under the skin of the upper chest. A connecting wire runs under the skin from the stimulator to an electrode that is attached to the vagus nerve, which is accessible through a small incision in the neck.

After the stimulating device is implanted, a doctor programs the device to deliver small electrical signals to the vagus nerve and into the brain at periodic intervals. During follow-up visits, the doctor adjusts the settings according to a person’s tolerance and seizure response. Stimulation is initially set to occur for 30 seconds every 5 minutes but can be adjusted based on individual responsiveness.

A person with a stimulating device has some control over it. Each person receives a magnet that activates the device. When a person or caregiver swipes the magnet over the device, it turns on and delivers a signal. This allows a person or caregiver to try to stop a seizure when the person feels it coming on or the caregiver sees it begin.

The procedure to implant the device is relatively minor. It takes less than an hour and requires general anesthesia. Most people return home the same day.

The device battery lasts for about five years, on average. Another minor surgery is required to replace it. NYU Langone physicians have also pioneered implantation of the device under the pectoralis muscle in the chest, making it cosmetically unnoticeable.

The vagus nerve stimulator is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in people age 12 or older with focal epilepsy that has not improved with treatment.

This treatment can work well in people with all types of epilepsy and seizure disorders who do not find that medications effectively manage these conditions.

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