What you can expect

Before the procedure

Before surgery, your doctor will do a physical examination. You may need blood tests or other tests to make sure you don't have any health concerns that might be a problem.

Your doctor will have you start taking antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection.

During the procedure

Surgery to implant the vagus nerve stimulation device is done either on an outpatient basis, allowing you to go home that same day, or on an inpatient basis, requiring an overnight stay in the hospital.

The surgery usually takes one to two hours. You may remain awake but have medication to numb the surgery area (local anesthesia) or you may be unconscious during the surgery (general anesthesia).

The surgery itself doesn't involve your brain. Two small incisions are made, one on your chest and the other on the left side of the neck.

The pulse generator is implanted in the upper left side of your chest. The device is meant to be a permanent implant, but it can be removed if necessary.

The pulse generator is about the size of a stopwatch and runs on battery power. A lead wire is connected to the pulse generator. The lead wire is guided under your skin from your chest up to your neck, where it's attached to the left vagus nerve through the second incision.

After the procedure

The pulse generator is turned on during a visit to your doctor's office a few weeks after surgery. Then it can be programmed to deliver electrical impulses to the vagus nerve at various durations, frequencies and currents.

Vagus nerve stimulation usually starts at a low level and is gradually increased, depending on your symptoms and side effects.

Stimulation is programmed to turn on and off in specific cycles. You may have some tingling sensations or slight pain in your neck when the nerve stimulation is on.

Usually, the stimulations are set to occur every one to three minutes. Programming is performed at the physician's office using a hand-held programming device.

The stimulator doesn't detect seizure activity or depression symptoms. When it's turned on, the stimulator turns on and off at the intervals selected by your doctor.

You'll be given a hand-held magnet so that you can initiate a stimulation yourself if you or others sense the beginning of a seizure.

The magnet can also be used to temporarily turn off the vagus nerve stimulation, which may be necessary when you do certain activities such as public speaking, singing or exercising, or when you're eating if you have swallowing problems.

You must visit your doctor periodically to make sure that the pulse generator is working correctly and that it hasn't shifted out of position. Most people see their doctor once or twice a year for this purpose.

You should also contact your doctor before you have any medical tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which might interfere with your device, or have another medical device implanted.