What is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)?

  • VNS is one of the new brain stimulation procedures approved by the USA Food and Drug Administration for chronic and treatment resistant depression.
  • It involves electric impulses, which are sent into the brain via a device called a pulse generator which is implanted in your chest.
  • This device is connected to the vagus nerve in your neck on the left side of your body and electrical signals are sent to your brain through this nerve.
  • The electric current activates the brain cells, which are thought to be associated with depression.

What is VNS used for?

  • VNS is used as an alternative or added treatment for depression when other standardized treatments including antidepressant medications, psychotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) fail to produce significant improvements.
  • VNS Therapy does not necessarily replace your medications but may help reduce them over time. Your doctor will follow up with you regularly on your treatment regimen.
  • VNS has also been proven as an effective treatment for neurological disorders such as epilepsy
  • VNS may or may not be effective for all patients with depression.

How do I receive VNS?

During the surgery
  • The VNS device is implanted in the upper left side of your chest.
  • It takes place as an outpatient procedure or an inpatient one night stay.
  • The surgery lasts 1 to 2 hours and can be done under local or general anesthesia.
After the procedure
  • Your physician will turn on the VNS device within few weeks from surgery.
  • The device will then deliver electrical impulses to the vagus nerve and you may feel a tingling sensation or mild pain in your neck.
  • You will be given a magnetic device that enables you to control the stimulation of the electrical impulses or turn off the device temporarily during certain activities.

How can I benefit from VNS?

  • VNS may improve your symptoms although it will be several months before these improvements occur.
  • VNS may protect you from future relapses of depression.
  • VNS will not impair your memory or ability to concentrate.

What are the risks of VNS?

  • Like with any surgery, there are risks associated with general anesthesia and the specific implantation of VNS. Your doctor can help you assess your risks given your medical condition.
  • Adjusting the electric impulses can minimize some side effects.
  • If you cannot tolerate the side effects, the device can be shut off or removed.

Useful Links on VNS

www.cyberonics.com
www.aans.org