Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is similar to a heart pacemaker. It involves a surgically implanted device that connects to the vagus nerve in the neck. Periodically, a mild electric pulse is sent to the nerve and disrupts seizure activity. VNS has been effective in controlling some seizures when anti-epileptic drugs have been inadequate, or their side effects intolerable, or if neurosurgery has not been an option. The stimulation usually reduces seizures in number and severity. In some cases, VNS has been effective in completely stopping seizures.
Common side effects, which occur only during stimulation, may include a tingling sensation in the neck and/or mild hoarseness of the voice. Other possible side effects may include coughing, voice alteration, shortness of breath, transient sensations of choking, throat pain, ear or tooth pain, and skin irritation or infection at the implant site. Unlike many medications, there seems to be no significant intellectual, cognitive, behavioral or emotional side effects to VNS therapy.