The effect of vagus nerve stimulation on migraines

J Pain. 2003 Nov;4(9):530-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2003.08.001.


Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) inhibits nociceptive behavior in animals. VNS might reduce pain in patients with VNS device implanted for intractable seizures. One case report described possible benefits on migraines. We contacted all patients who received VNS therapy for intractable epilepsy between 1993 and 1999 at Southern Illinois University, Springfield, Illinois. Patients who had concomitant chronic pain were subsequently interviewed. Pain intensity before and after VNS implantation was rated by the patient as average, worst, and least and on numeric rating scale from 1 to 10. Current pain measurements were compared to preimplantation by using Global Pain Relief Rating Scale. Of 62 patients who received VNS, 27 patients were interviewed; 4 patients had common migraine, and no other chronic pain syndromes were identified. All patients with migraine reported reductions in headache frequency and numeric rating scale score for average and least headache intensity. One patient reported complete relief of headaches. Improvement was reported to start 1 to 3 months after initiation of therapy. On Global Pain Relief Rating Scale, 1 patient reported complete pain relief, 2 reported a lot of pain relief, and 1 reported slight pain relief. Concomitant antiepileptic drugs were decreased in 3 patients and slightly increased in 1. VNS might be beneficial for prophylactic therapy of migraine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Migraine Disorders / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seizures / therapy
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*