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Vagus Nerve Stimulator

Treating Depression With a Vagus Nerve Stimulator

The vagus nerve stimulator can be used for individuals with depression that is resistant to at least four different depression medications, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatment, or both. The device is not intended to be used a firstline depression treatment, even in those people with severe depression. It does not replace other depression treatments, such as medications and ECT, and people should not expect to stop these other treatments, even with the device in place.
Not all people receiving a vagus nerve stimulator will respond to the same degree, if at all. Based on the results of a clinical study of more than 200 people conducted in the United States, during the first three months of therapy, people who had the vagus nerve stimulator implanted and turned on did not show any significant advantage in response compared to those in whom the device was implanted but not turned on.
At one year, approximately 2 or 3 out of every 10 people had a clinically significant improvement in symptoms of depression, with about half that number having almost no remaining depressive symptoms. Many of the people who had a significant response within the first year of treatment continued to have a similar degree of response through two years.
Some people who had the vagus nerve stimulator implanted, however, had no improvement in symptoms, and some people actually got worse.

Side Effects Associated With Vagus Nerve Stimulators

Side effects of the vagus nerve stimulator are generally mild, but may include:
  • Hoarseness
  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath.
Adjusting the amount of stimulation can usually eliminate most side effects, although the hoarseness typically persists.
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