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UW Health SMPH
American Family Children's Hospital

Epilepsy Services: Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

UW Health's comprehensive epilepsy program at UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin, offers state-of-the-art care for patients with epilepsy or those suspected of having seizures.


Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) and Epilepsy


During Vagus Nerve Stimulation, surgeons implant a device that is similar to a pacemaker under the skin. The device sends a mild, electrical signal to the vagus nerve, which is critical for communication between the brain and major organs. The electrical signal helps control the seizures from which epilepsy patients suffer.
More About Vagus Nerve Stimulation
  • The VNS device is initially set to deliver the electrical signal for about 30 seconds every five minutes but is adjusted according to the patient's needs.
  • Patients are given a magnet that allows them to control the electrical signal and control seizures themselves.
  • The surgery is relatively minor, takes about two hours and does not directly involve the brain.
  • Risks include infection and bleeding (1 to 2 percent) and damage to the nerve supplying the muscles in the voice box (less than 1 percent).
  • Side effects include tingling in the neck while the stimulator is on, changes to the voice including hoarseness, and changes in swallowing and shortness of breath.
  • Success rates: About one-half of patients reduce their seizures by half, one-third reduce seizures by less than half and one-third experience no change.

Patient Eligibility


The Vagus Nerve Stimulator is used for:

  • Patients with refractory partial epilepsy who are 12 years of age or older
  • Patients with primary generalized epilepsy
  • Patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Landau-Kleffner syndrome and other seizure disorders