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You Need to Know what the Doctors Don't Tell You about the VNS Implant

by Jeanette Fisher

Vagus Nerve Stimulation surgery, a last-ditch effort to control seizures, stirs up a controversy amongst those who have the device implanted. Many patients love the relief from uncontrollable seizures. However, many other patients hate the side-effects caused by the surgery and the devise.

Up to 70% of people could have their seizures controlled with prescription drugs. For the remaining 30%, surgery may be an option. Epilepsy surgery has many different variations; temporal lobe resection, extratemporal cortical resection, and corpus callosal section. Besides these radical surgeries, Vagus or Vagal Nerve Stimulation surgery (VNS) implants a VNS pulse generator under the skin of the chest in a surgically created pocket. The electrode is tunneled subcutaneously from a neck incision. The VNS uses electrical pulses delivered to the vagus nerve in the neck which travel up into the brain. The vagus nerve has very few pain receptors and therefore provides a good pathway to deliver signals to the brain.

No one knows why the VNS reduces seizures. Proponents believe that persistent VNS causes changes in brain chemistry that may reduce excitatory amino acids and/or increase inhibitory levels. Patients report that VNS reduces the number, length, severity of seizures, and the length of recovery time after seizures. Some report improved quality of life. "It has been almost three years since my VNS, and the only thing I would have changed is that I would have had it about ten years earlier than I did."

However, one important thing doctors forget to tell you before they implant the VNS in a $23,000 surgery: If you have a heart attack, you can not be treated with an automated external defibrillator (AED). Patients with VNS cannot receive emergency treatment with electrical charges used to restore normal heart rhythm to patients in cardiac arrest.


Copyright © 2004-present Jeanette J. Fisher. All rights reserved.

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