Making Sense of Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Stroke

Stroke. 2024 Feb;55(2):519-522. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.123.044576. Epub 2023 Dec 14.


Implantable vagus nerve stimulation, paired with high-dose occupational therapy, has been shown to be effective in improving upper limb function among patients with stroke and received regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Combining nonsurgical and surgical approaches of vagus nerve stimulation in recent meta-analyses has resulted in misleading reports on the efficacy of each type of stimulation among patients with stroke. This article aims to clarify the confusion surrounding implantable vagus nerve stimulation as a poststroke treatment option, highlighting the importance of distinguishing between transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation and implantable vagus nerve stimulation. Recent meta-analyses on vagus nerve stimulation have inappropriately combined studies of fundamentally different interventions, outcome measures, and participant selection, which do not conform to methodological best practices and, hence, cannot be used to deduce the relative efficacy of the different types of vagus nerve stimulation for stroke rehabilitation. Health care providers, patients, and insurers should rely on appropriately designed research to guide well-informed decisions.

Keywords: stroke rehabilitation; transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation; vagus nerve stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Stroke Rehabilitation* / methods
  • Stroke* / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation* / methods