Vagus-nerve stimulation for the treatment of epilepsy

Lancet Neurol. 2002 Dec;1(8):477-82. doi: 10.1016/s1474-4422(02)00220-x.


Vagus-nerve stimulation (VNS) is now an accepted treatment for patients with refractory epilepsy. There have been many studies suggesting that VNS affects the brain in such areas as the thalamus and other limbic structures. In addition, there is some evidence that norepinephrine is important in the prophylactic antiseizure effects of VNS. The efficacy of VNS has been established for partial seizure types, even in refractory patients who did not respond to surgical treatment for epilepsy. There are also data, from open-label studies, that suggest efficacy in other seizure types. Therefore, VNS seems to be a broad-spectrum treatment for epilepsy. Improvement is not immediate but increases over 18-24 months of treatment. Most studies report subjective improvements in various quality-of-life measurements during treatment with VNS--objective trials have confirmed this observation. Side-effects are mainly stimulation related and reversible and they tend to decrease over time. They are generally mild to moderate and seldom necessitate the removal of the device. No idiosyncratic side-effects have been reported in 12 years of experience, and VNS does not interact with antiepileptic drugs. Most adverse events are predictable and related to the specific stimulation regimen. VNS does not have cognitive and systemic side-effects and can, therefore, be a valuable treatment approach even for patients who have poor tolerance of antiepileptic drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy* / instrumentation
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy* / methods
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Epilepsy / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*