Nervous System Home > Vagus Nerve Stimulator

A vagus nerve stimulator is a battery-powered device that is surgically implanted under the skin of the chest and attached to the vagus nerve in the lower neck. The device has shown some success in minimizing epilepsy and depression by delivering short bursts of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. Side effects are generally mild; they include hoarseness, ear pain, and sore throat.

What Is the Vagus Nerve Stimulator?

The vagus nerve stimulator was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997 for use in people with severe seizures that are not well controlled by medication.
 
Recently, the vagus nerve stimulator was also approved for depression that has not responded to usual treatments.
 

How Does It Work?

The vagus nerve stimulator is a battery-powered device that is surgically implanted under the skin of the chest, much like a pacemaker, and is attached to the vagus nerve in the lower neck. This device delivers short bursts of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. To turn the stimulator off, the person holds a magnet over the pulse generator.
 

Using a Vagus Nerve Stimulator to Treat Epilepsy

On average, the vagus nerve stimulator reduces seizures by about 20 to 40 percent. However, in 20 percent of the people who received this device, the number of seizures actually increased.
 
People usually cannot stop taking epilepsy medication even when using the vagus nerve stimulator, but they often experience fewer seizures and they may be able to reduce the dose of their medication.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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