There are many forms of treatment for epilepsy. The VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) has been developed for epilepsy patients who are not candidates for surgery and whose intractable seizures are not managed with anti-seizure medications.
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the VNS was developed by Cyberonics, Inc. Dr William Agnew at Huntington Medical Research Institutes was instrumental in its early phases of development.
The vagus nerve is one of the primary communication lines from the major organs of the body to the neck to the vagus nerve. Stimulation of the vagus nerve can stop seizures, reduce the intensity and frequency of seizures in some patients. The VNS periodically stimulates the vagus nerve, usually for a brief period.
The VNS is an implanted pacemaker-size stimulator. It has a wire lead that attaches to the vagus nerve by means of an incision. The incision is made on a naturally occurring crease on the neck, thereby making the healed scar practically invisible. The procedure takes a few hours and the patient is usually released from the hospital on the next day. After the patient stabilizes, the physician uses a wand to activate the VNS.
Since 1997, there have been a number of medically intractable patients showing promising results in managing their seizures through the VNS.
Preliminary findings indicate that VNS stimulation seems to become more effective over time and has helped improve the patient's quality of life.
Many patients on VNS have also experienced reduction and/or discontinuation of anti-seizure medications.
Recent information indicates that some concurrent anti-seizure medications may be reduced during VNS therapy.
After having a seizure, some patients before implantation of the VNS would spend the remainder of the day recovering in bed. Since implantation, the postictal period has improved so that patients are able to resume activities within a short time. Improved eating habits have enabled several seriously underweight patients gain weight. As a result of its effectiveness, 57% of the patients have had their anti-epileptic medications reduced or discontinued.
These interim results show decreased seizure frequency, improved quality of life, and reduced and discontinued AEDs.