If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because you’re contemplating receiving vagus nerve stimulation treatment, and with good reason. Research shows a massive improvement in patients after receiving VNS for several medical conditions, such as epilepsy, depression, and speech problems. One specific stat shows that 48-56% of patients showed a drastic decrease in epileptic seizures.
Yet, despite the many benefits that VNS can bring, there are still several things to consider before agreeing to get this treatment. What exactly is it, how does it work, and what should you expect from VNS? If you want to know the answers to these questions, keep reading.
Who Needs a Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
You can turn to Vagus nerve stimulation to treat a variety of conditions. Some of the most common ones include epilepsy, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, eating disorders like obesity, and speech disorders like stuttering. However, VNS is not a cure for any of them. It is also not recommended for people with previous abdominal surgery, a pacemaker or defibrillator, or severe diabetes.
If you want to find out if you’d benefit from VNS, you’ll need to see your doctor. They’ll determine if you’re a good candidate for the procedure based on your medical history and current health. You’ll also want a second opinion from another doctor to ensure you’re getting the best treatment possible.
How Does It Feel?
It all depends on what medical condition you’re treating. When VNS is being used to treat epilepsy, it is unlikely that you will feel anything at all. However, if it is being used as a treatment for depression, you may experience a mild tingling or burning sensation in the ear.
If VNS is being used to treat intractable obesity, you may feel mild discomfort or pressure in the abdomen. And, if you have a device implanted in the chest, you may experience a feeling of pressure on your sternum, often described as a feeling similar to having a golf ball lodged in your chest.
You might even feel it when hugging a loved one or when pressing your hand against the device. VNS is typically turned on for 90 minutes a day. The device is turned off for the remaining 16 hours of the day.
How Long Does It Take To Work?
This varies depending on the reason for VNS. VNS is often used to treat epilepsy and chronic pain, and research shows that it works for both of these conditions. For epilepsy, VNS works in a relatively short period of time, within a month or so.
However, for depression, VNS may take as long as a year to work. This depends on how severe your depression is and how long you have been experiencing symptoms.
Benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
There are many benefits of VNS, including, such as improved speech. If you have stuttering issues or struggle with chronic speech problems, then vagus nerve stimulation may help.
Researchers have observed significant improvements in speech after VNS therapy in over half of the patients studied. Another benefit of VNS includes improved concentration.
If you have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), VNS therapy may improve your ability to concentrate. Researchers have observed an improvement in attention in over 70% of the patients studied.
And it can even contribute to weight loss. Vagus nerve stimulation has also help improve weight loss in patients undergoing treatment for morbid obesity.
However, it’s mostly known for how it’s been able to reduce seizures in people with epilepsy. Many epilepsy patients see their seizures reduced by over 50% after receiving VNS therapy.
How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Works
Vagus nerve stimulation works by stimulating the vagus nerve with electrical impulses. The impulses travel from the device through the vagus nerve to the brain and spinal cord.
The electrical impulses trigger the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain). Some neurotransmitters make you feel happy, relaxed, and calm. Other neurotransmitters make you feel focused, attentive, and energetic.
Vagus nerve stimulation is considered a “biomedical device.” It’s like getting a pacemaker for your brain. This vagus nerve stimulation device is implanted in your chest during outpatient surgery and only lasts a few hours.
Side Effects of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Despite all the reported benefits VNS can bring, it can also come with some side effects, just like any other medical treatment. For example, scarring is a common side effect. Patients who receive VNS therapy may experience scarring and swelling; if that’s the case, contact your doctor immediately.
Hypertrophy is also another possible side effect. Some patients report the development of hypertrophy (enlargement) of the left side of the neck. This is usually not serious and should go away after the device is removed.
Infection is one of the major risks involved in any surgery. It’s recommended that you take antibiotics before, during, and after the surgery to minimize your risk of infection.
Another possible side effect is dysphonia, which is temporary hoarseness after the VNS therapy. Patients have only reported long-term dysphonia (permanent hoarseness) in very rare cases.
VNS is also likely to cause paresthesia (tingling, numbness, or pins-and-needles sensation in the skin). This is usually temporary and should go away once VNS is removed. It can also provoke impaired swallowing, which is also rare.
Are You A Candidate?
As you just read, Vagus nerve stimulation has seen great success as a treatment for epilepsy, stuttering, depression, and other medical conditions. If you think that you might be able to benefit from this treatment, book an appointment with your doctor to get a better grasp of this treatment and whether or not you’re a good candidate for it.
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