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26 Apr

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Vagus Nerve Stimulation

April 26, 2014 | By |

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a type of treatment in which short bursts of electrical energy are directed into the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck. The energy comes from a battery, about the size of a silver dollar, which is surgically implanted under the skin, usually on the chest. Leads are threaded under the skin and attached to the vagus nerve in the same procedure. The physician programs the device to deliver small electrical stimulation bursts every few minutes. This is a relatively new type of treatment. It may be tried when other treatment is not effective.

One of the most unusual aspects of VNS is the part that a special magnet plays in the treatment. It gives people with VNS implants some control over the device and how it works. The special, thin block magnet is attached to a strap. It can be worn on the wrist like a watch, or clipped to a belt like a pager.

Although the VNS system delivers stimulation automatically in regular pulses all the time, the magnet can be used to deliver extra electronic stimulation in between cycles. The patient does this by passing the magnet over the area of the chest where the VNS device is implanted.

Magnets Can Help with Seizures

People use the magnet in this way when they sense a seizure is about to happen. For some, the extra stimulation stops the seizure, shortens it, makes it less severe, or reduces the time it takes to recover afterwards. Other people say using the magnet has little or no effect on their seizures.

 

Tips on Handling Magnets

  • Don’t place or store the magnet near credit cards, televisions, computers, computer disks, microwave ovens or other magnets. Keep it at least 10 inches from these items.
  • Do not drop the magnet. It can break if it falls on a hard surface.
  • Carry the magnet with you. If your seizures stop or are shorter when extra stimulation is turned on, show family members or caregivers how to use the magnet when you have a seizure.
  • Ask your doctor about how much and for how long you can safely use the magnet to activate the device.

Not everyone with a VNS implant has a warning before a seizure begins. However, family members and caregivers can also be shown how to pass the magnet over the implant when that person has a seizure.

Magnets can also be used to give people a short break from the programmed stimulation.

Magnets Can Stop Stimulation

By holding a magnet in place over the device, someone with a VNS implant can stop stimulation or turn off the pulse generator for a short time.

Reasons for wanting to stop the stimulation may include:

  • Plans to sing or speak in public (to prevent changes in voice tone during stimulation)
  • Eating (if people have a pre-existing condition that makes swallowing difficult)
  • Experiencing pain or other unusual discomfort during the stimulation phase.
  • In addition, a VNS patient can use the magnet daily to check whether the pulse generator battery is working properly.

For more information visit the Cyberonics website at www.cyberonics.com.