Vagus nerve stimulation for intractable epilepsy: Outcome in two series combining 90 patients
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is the most widely used non-pharmacological treatment for medically intractable epilepsy and has been in clinical use for over a decade. It is indicated in patients who are refractory to medical treatment or who experience intolerable side effects, and who are not candidates for resective surgery. VNS used in the acute setting can both abort seizures and have an acute prophylactic effect. This effect increases over time in chronic treatment to a maximum at around 18 months. The evidence base supporting the efficacy of VNS is strong, but its exact mechanism of action remains unknown. A vagus nerve stimulator consists of two electrodes embedded in a silastic helix that is wrapped around the cervical vagus nerve. The stimulator is always implanted on the left vagus nerve in order to reduce the likelihood of adverse cardiac effects. The electrodes are connected to an implantable pulse generator (IPG) which is positioned subcutaneously either below the clavicle or in the axilla. The IPG is programmed by computer via a wand placed on the skin over it. In addition, extra pulses of stimulation triggered by a hand-held magnet may help to prevent or abort seizures. VNS is essentially a palliative treatment and the number of patients who become seizure free is very small. A significant reduction in the frequency and severity of seizures can be expected in about one third of patients and efficacy tends to improve with time. Vagus nerve stimulation is well tolerated and has few significant side effects. We describe our experience on the use of VNS on drug-resistant epilepsy in 90 patients treated in two departments (in Athens, Greece and Newcastle, England).
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