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Vagus Nerve Stimulator Therapy: How to Care for Your Child

Your child had a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) placed to treat epilepsy. The VNS is a generator that sends small electrical pulses to the vagus (VAY-gus) nerve, which runs up the sides of the neck and into the brain. The pulses can help prevent seizures or make them shorter. Most families see improvement after a few months, but sometimes it can take longer.

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  • Follow the care team's recommendations for:

    • programming the VNS

    • follow-up appointments

  • If your child has a VNS handheld magnet, use as directed by your care team. Swiping the magnet across the skin over where the generator is placed triggers it to send a strong signal to the brain to stop the seizure.

  • Reassure your child that it's normal to feel a little hoarse, cough, or get a funny feeling in the throat when the VNS sends out a signal.

  • Tell your child's health care providers, teachers, and coaches that your child has a VNS device. Be sure they know what to do if your child has a seizure.

  • Keep track of any seizures your child has. Record when the seizure happened, what happened during it, how long it lasted, if you used the VNS magnet, and if you gave medicine to stop the seizure.

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  • Your child is bothered by the voice hoarseness, cough, or other feelings that happen when the VNS sends out a signal.

  • Your child has more seizures or seizures that seem different.

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Your child: 

  • has a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes

  • has several seizures in a row

  • has trouble breathing or turns blue during a seizure

  • gets hurt during the seizure

  • doesn't wake up within a few minutes after a seizure

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Are other treatments needed along with VNS therapy? Most kids also need to take medicines for their seizures. VNS therapy can help some kids take fewer medicines.

Who gets VNS therapy? VNS therapy works best in children who are at least 4 years old, and:

  • have partial (focal) seizures

  • take medicines for epilepsy, but haven't had an improvement

  • are not good candidates for epilepsy surgery

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