Vagal Nerve Stimulation for Epilepsy

About Vagal Nerve Stimulation

Vagal Nerve Stimulation is a medical treatment that involves delivering electrical impulses to the vagus nerve to control or limit improper pulses from the vagal nerve. Vagal Nerve Stimulation devices are typically used to treat patients with epilepsy that does not respond to medications or drugs.

Vagal nerve stimulation therapy is a treatment for epilepsy that involves a stimulator (pulse generator) which is implanted inside the body near the left vagus nerve in the neck. The electrical stimulator sends regular, mild electrical stimulations through this nerve to help calm down any irregular electrical brain activity that could lead to an epileptic seizure.

There are several ways to treat epilepsy, but certain patients respond differently to various treatments. Vagus nerve stimulation therapy is a form of treatment for people with epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled with medication and would otherwise have no other option for controlling or limiting the onset of epileptic seizures.

How Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS) works

The vagus nerves are a pair of nerves that travel from the brain into the body, transmitting messages and impulses. Left cervical VNS is an approved therapy for certain types of epilepsy and for depression that doesn’t respond to other treatment options, including drugs.

What is VNS therapy and how does it work?

Through Vagus Nerve Stimulation therapy, the implanted electrical stimulator sends regular, mild electrical stimulations through the vagus nerve to calm down irregular electrical brain activity that may lead to seizures. The goal of VNS therapy is to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures. For some people their seizures may become much less frequent with VNS. For others, VNS may reduce their seizures slightly, while for others it may have no effect.

Most neurological surgeons caution that VNS is unlikely to completely stop seizures entirely, and it should be emphasized that VNS is not a cure for epilepsy, but a possible tool for managing the neurological problem. Secondly, it may take a long periord for the procedure to work. In some cases, it may take up to two years for it to have an effect on seizures. Generally VNS is used along with anti-epileptic drugs rather than eliminating drugs entirely.

VNS therapy is usually considered by patients who have not responded to drug therapy, and are not candidates for brain surgery, or they do not want to undergo brain surgery to address epileptic seizures.

There are some side effects of VNS therapy but they only relate to when the vagus nerve is being stimulated by electric current. Side effects may include discomfort in the throat, a cough, difficulty swallowing or a temporary hoarse voice.


Scott B. Phillips, MD is a neurological spine surgeon based in San Antonio who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery, artificial disc replacement, carpal tunnel surgery, spinal cord stimulator implants and other brain disorders, including brain tumor and chiari decompression. Patients travel from Bexar County, San Marcos and South Texas, including Corpus Christi, Kingsville, McAllen and Brownsville for treatment of back pain, neck pain, brain tumor, carpal tunnel and epilepsy-related neurological problems. Dr. Scott Phillips provides a second opinion for back surgery and neck surgery, and emphasizes non-surgical treatment options in advance of spine surgery. Where surgery is necessary because of a herniated disc or spinal instability, Dr. Phillips uses minimally invasive spine surgery techniques and advanced technology like the artificial disc to help patients relieve pain symptoms and get back to activity. This spine neurosurgeon expertise enables many patients to have outpatient spine surgery and be home the same day. This educational web site at has home remedies for back pain, neck pain and herniated disc. This site also has our philosophy of care about controversial treatments like laser spine surgery.