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For Managing Epileptic Seizures

Vagus Nerve Stimulator

The vagus nerve stimulator is used in patients whose epileptic seizures are not well-controlled with medicine. 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 medicine, 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

Contact your doctor if you (or your child):

  • Experience any unusual or severe symptoms or side effects
  • Do not suffer any recurrence of epileptic seizures (Your treatment may be lessened or stopped.)
  • Do not experience any decrease in epileptic seizures


American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html.

Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 17th ed. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 2000.

Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at: http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/.

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

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/.

Last reviewed March 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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