Devices for Treating Epilepsy
The Vagus Nerve Stimulator
This device was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997 for use in people with seizures that are not well controlled by medication. The vagus nerve stimulator is a battery-powered device that is surgically placed under the skin of the chest, much like a pacemaker and is attached to the vagus nerve in the lower neck. This device delivers short bursts of electrical energy to the brain. On average, this stimulation reduces seizures by about 20 to 40 percent.
Patients who have this device usually cannot stop taking epilepsy medication. But they often experience fewer seizures and they may be even able to reduce the amount of medicine they take. Side effects of the device are usually mild but may include a hoarse voice, ear pain, a sore throat or nausea. Adjusting the amount of stimulation can usually eliminate most side effects, although the hoarseness doesn’t usually go away. The batteries in the vagus nerve stimulator need to be replaced about once every five years; this requires a minor operation that can usually be performed as an outpatient procedure.
Several new devices for epilepsy may become available in the future. Researchers are studying whether transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS, a procedure that uses a strong magnet held outside the head to influence brain activity, may reduce seizures). They also hope to develop implantable devices that can deliver drugs to specific parts of the brain.
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