Norwegian population-based study of effectiveness of vagus nerve stimulation in patients with developmental and epileptic encephalopathies

Epilepsia Open. 2024 Apr;9(2):704-716. doi: 10.1002/epi4.12908. Epub 2024 Feb 6.


Objective: Evaluate the long-term efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in patients with developmental and epileptic encephalopathies (DEE) compared with epilepsy patients without intellectual disability (ID).

Methods: Long-term outcomes from a Norwegian VNS quality registry are reported in 105 patients with DEEs (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome [LGS] n = 62; Dravet n = 16; Rett n = 9; other syndromes n = 18) were compared with 212 epilepsy patients without ID, with median follow-up of 88 and 72 months, respectively. Total seizure reduction was evaluated at 6, 12, 24, 36, and 60 months. Effect on different seizure types was evaluated at baseline and last observation carried forward (LOCF).

Results: Median monthly seizure frequency at LOCF was reduced by 42.2% (p < 0.001) in patients with DEE and by 55.8% (p < 0.001) in patients without ID. In DEE patients, ≥50% seizure reduction at 6 and 24 months were 17.1% and 37.1%, respectively, and 33.5% and 48.6% for patients without ID. Seizure reduction ≥75% at 60 months occurred in 14.3% of DEE patients and 23.1% of patients without ID. Highest median reduction was for atonic seizures, most notably 64.6% for LGS patients. A better effect was seen at 2 years among DEE patients with unchanged medication compared with those with changed medication (54.5% vs. 35.6% responders, p = 0.078). More DEE patients were reported to have greater improvement in ictal or postictal severity (43.8% vs. 28.3%, p = 0.006) and alertness (62.9% vs. 31.6%, p < 0.001) than patients without ID. For both groups, use of the magnet reduced seizure severity. Hoarseness was the most common adverse effect in both groups. In addition, DEE patients were frequently reported to have sleep disturbance, general discomfort, or abdominal problems.

Significance: Our data indicate that VNS is very effective for atonic seizures. Patients without ID had best overall seizure reduction, however, patients with DEE had higher retention rates probably due to other positive effects.

Plain language summary: DEE refers to a group of patients with severe epilepsy and intellectual disability. Many of these patients have restricted lifestyles with frequent seizures. VNS is a treatment option for patients who do not respond well to medicines, either because of insufficient effect or serious adverse effects. Our study shows that VNS is well tolerated in this patient group and leads to a reduction in all seizure types, most notably for seizures leading to fall. Many patients experience other positive effects like shorter and milder seizures, as well as improvement in alertness.

Keywords: Dravet syndrome; Lennox–Gastaut syndrome; atonic seizures; long‐term effects; vagus nerve stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Epilepsy* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / etiology
  • Intellectual Disability* / therapy
  • Lennox Gastaut Syndrome* / therapy
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation* / adverse effects