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Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a medical procedure that is employed to treat and manage the symptoms of chronic depression. The following article provides information on this procedure.
Rajib Singha
Depression is not an easy disorder to deal with. Some of its common symptoms include a constant feeling of sadness or dejection, loss of interest in many activities, low sex drive, lack of sleep or excessive sleeping, restlessness, impaired thinking, poor concentration, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, crying spells for no apparent reason and physical problems like backache and headaches. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is one of the procedures employed in the treatment. As the name suggests, VNS involves the stimulation of the vagus nerve with electric impulses.

How does VNS Benefit People Affected by Depression?

This therapy is relatively new, and is employed when the other treatment options have failed to provide the desired results in the treatment of chronic depression.

There is one vagus nerve on each side of your body. It runs from the brainstem through the neck to the chest and abdomen. For stimulating this nerve, a pulse generator or a vagus nerve stimulator is surgically implanted in the chest. The device is run by a battery. Then a wire that connects the generator, is connected to the left vagus nerve in the neck. This wire is threaded under the skin. The stimulation of vagus nerve occurs once the generator starts sending short bursts of electrical energy to the brain, with the vagus nerve as the communicating medium. These signals influence the part of the brain that is involved in controlling the mood of the person, thereby alleviating the symptoms associated with depressive disorders.

Benefits of VNS in Treating Epilepsy

VNS is also used for treating epilepsy, which is a condition that is characterized by seizures. Although no specific causes have been identified, it is assumed that the condition results from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Common symptoms include temporary state of confusion, staring away at something for a moment, shaky movements of the limbs and in some cases, a state of complete unconsciousness. VNS is recommended when other treatment options do not provide the desired results. In some cases, it has been observed that the frequency of seizures dropped by 30 - 40%.

Possible Side Effects

As mentioned earlier, a surgery is required to implant the device in the chest. As is the case with all surgeries, certain risks are involved. These include:
  • Pain at the site of incision
  • Infection
  • Scarring at the incision site
  • Temporary paralysis of the vocal cords
  • Difficulty swallowing
Some adverse effects might be observed after the procedure. These include:
  • Changes in voice (occurs in 50% of cases)
  • Cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Hoarseness
  • Pain in the throat area, and in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Tingling sensation on the skin
Patients are advised to inform their doctor about any adverse effect that they might be experiencing. At times, the symptoms resolve with time. Making adjustments to the electrical impulses can also help minimize the side effects. In severe cases, the doctors might chose to shut off the device for some time or may choose to remove it permanently. Do make regular visits to the doctor. This helps in detecting any problems such as any malfunction or shift from the position where the device was originally implanted.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.