For most people, vagus nerve stimulation is safe. But it does have some risks, both from the surgery to implant the device and from the brain stimulation.
Surgical complications with vagus nerve stimulation are rare and are similar to the dangers of having other types of surgery. They include:
- Pain where the cut (incision) is made to implant the device
- Incision scarring
- Difficulty swallowing
- Vocal cord paralysis, which is usually temporary, but can be permanent
Side effects after surgery
Some of the side effects and health problems associated with vagus nerve stimulation can include:
- Voice changes
- Throat pain
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems, especially during exercise
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- Tingling or prickling of the skin
- Slowing of the heart rate (bradycardia)
For most people, side effects are tolerable. They may lessen over time, but some side effects may be bothersome for as long as you use vagus nerve stimulation.
Adjusting the electrical impulses can help minimize these effects. If side effects are intolerable, the device can be shut off temporarily or permanently.
Aug. 15, 2017
- Beekwilder JP, et al. Overview of the clinical applications of vagus nerve stimulation. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology. 2010;27:130.
- Morris, GL, et al. Evidence-based guideline update: Vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of epilepsy: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2013; 81:1453. http://www.neurology.org/content/81/16/1453.short.
- Chengyuan Wu, et al. Neurostimulation for the treatment of epilepsy: A review of current surgical interventions. Neuromodulation. 2013;16:10.
- VNS therapy system — P970003s050. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DeviceApprovalsandClearances/Recently-ApprovedDevices/ucm078532.htm. Accessed Nov. 3, 2015.
- Vagus nerve stimulation. American Association of Neurosurgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Vagus%20Nerve%20Stimulation.aspx. Accessed Sept. 3, 2015.
- Martin JLR, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of vagus nerve stimulation in the treatment of depression: Variable results based on study designs. European Psychiatry. 2012;27:147.
- Britton JW (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 3, 2015.
- Seizures and epilepsy: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/detail_epilepsy.htm. Accessed Sept. 25, 2014.
- Karceski, S., et al. Vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of epilepsy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 3, 2015.
- Holtzheimer, PE, et al. Unipolar depression in adults: Treatment with surgical approaches. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 3, 2015.
- Yuan, H, et al. Vagus nerve and vagus nerve stimulation, a comprehensive review: Part II. Headache. In press. Accessed Nov. 3, 2015.