Another epilepsy treatment option, when medication is not effective, is the Vagus Nerve Stimulator. The Froedtert & MCW Comprehensive Epilepsy Program was instrumental in developing this alternative therapy. The Vagus Nerve Stimulator is a disc-shaped, pacemaker-like device that is implanted in the left side of the chest. The stimulator provides an intermittent signal to an electrode connected to the Vagus nerve, located in the left front part of the neck. When patients or witnesses realize a seizure is about to occur, they can use a magnet to activate the stimulator and stop the seizure.
Vagus nerve stimulation may be appropriate when medications have been ineffective and when patients cannot or choose not to have surgery, or when surgery has failed to control seizures. In addition, patients must be in good general health, with no progressive illnesses, in order to be candidates for Vagus nerve stimulation.
One benefit of Vagus nerve stimulation is that it does not produce many of the side effects that medications sometimes cause, such as drowsiness, dizziness, unsteadiness, slowness of thinking or speaking and potential changes in the function of the bone marrow or liver. Vagus nerve stimulation does require the initial implantation of the device, but this is a brief surgery. Likewise, adjustments to the amount of electricity administered through the device are made during outpatient visits.