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Other Treatments for Epilepsy

For Managing Epileptic Seizures

Vagus Nerve Stimulator

The vagus nerve stimulator is used in patients whose epileptic seizures are not well-controlled with medication. The stimulator is a battery-powered device. It is surgically implanted under the skin, similar to the implantation of a pacemaker. It is connected to the vagus nerve and delivers short bursts of electricity to the brain via the vagus nerve in the neck.

This device helps to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Improvement is often slow; it may take up to 2 years to see the full effect. Patients with a vagus nerve stimulator may need to stay on medication, but can often reduce the dosage. The vagus nerve stimulator may also improve other symptoms, such as depression and level of alertness.

Batteries in the device usually need to be replaced every 5 years. This is done via an outpatient surgical procedure.

Side effects are mild, such as:

  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Muscle twitching

Responsive Neurostimulator

A responsive neurostimulator (RNS) device is used in people whose epileptic seizures are not well-controlled with medication. The stimulator is a battery-powered device. It is surgically implanted under the scalp. It is connected to one or two wires that are placed where seizures occur within the person's brain.

The device detects abnormal electrical activity in the brain and delivers electrical stimulation before seizures symptoms occur. It helps to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Improvement is often slow; it may take up to two years to see the full effect.

Batteries in the device usually need to be replaced every three years. This is done via an outpatient surgical procedure.

Side effects include:

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you or your child:

  • Experience any unusual or severe symptoms or side effects
  • Do not experience any decrease in epileptic seizures

References:

Epilepsy in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115086/Epilepsy-in-adults. Updated December 8, 2016. Accessed February 6, 2017.
Epilepsy in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated December 8, 2016. Accessed February 6, 2017.
Epilepsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Epilepsy-Information-Page. Accessed February 6, 2017.
FDA approves medical device to treat epilepsy. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated November 14, 2014. Accessed February 6, 2017.
Jobst BC. Electrical stimulation in epilepsy: vagus nerve and brain stimulation. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2010;12(5):443-453.
Treating seizures and epilepsy. Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 6, 2017.
US approves antiepileptic brain implant. Epilepsy Research UK website. Available at:https://www.epilepsyresearch.org.uk/us-approves-antiepileptic-brain-implant. Accessed February 6, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 3/15/2015

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