Health Information and Tools > Tests & Treatments >  Nerve Stimulation for Epilepsy

Main Content

Nerve Stimulation for Epilepsy

Treatment Overview

Nerve stimulator devices for epilepsy send electrical signals to the brain to prevent the electrical bursts that cause seizures.

The deep brain stimulator (DBS) is implanted under your skin on your upper chest near your collarbone. A wire under the skin connects the device to electrodes that are in your brain. The doctor programs the device to send electrical signals to an area of the brain involved in seizures. The signals prevent or decrease seizures.

The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) is implanted under the skin, near your collarbone. A wire (lead) under the skin connects the device to electrodes attached to the vagal nerve that goes to your brain. The doctor programs the device to produce weak electrical signals. These signals travel to your brain at regular intervals to prevent seizures.

Nerve stimulation is used along with other treatment. It doesn't get rid of the need for medicine. But it can help reduce the risk of complications from severe or repeated seizures.

What To Expect

The nerve stimulator can start working right after the surgery. You may notice a slight bulge in the area where the device is. And the surgery will leave small scars where the wire leads were placed and where the device was implanted.

Why It Is Done

Nerve stimulation can be used in some people who have generalized or focal seizures or who haven't responded well to antiepileptic medicines. Nerve stimulation may also be used for people who aren't candidates for epilepsy surgery or who haven't responded well to previous epilepsy surgery.

How Well It Works

The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) may reduce the frequency of seizures in some people with epilepsy.

The benefits of the VNS seem to increase over time.

For people who can sense when they are about to have a seizure, turning on the VNS using their hand-held magnet can sometimes prevent the seizure. It may also shorten a seizure already in progress.

The VNS may also work well in children.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be an option for people who have not responded to medicines to treat seizures or who cannot have surgery for epilepsy. DBS may reduce how often someone has seizures. The benefits of DBS seem to increase over time.


Nerve stimulation is considered safe.

Side effects of the vagus nerve stimulator occur in some people when the device stimulates the nerve. They include:

  • Coughing.
  • Throat pain.
  • Hoarseness or slight voice changes.
  • Shortness of breath.

Other possible risks of both types of nerve stimulators include:

  • Infection.
  • Numbness or tingling.
  • Pain where the stimulator device is placed under the skin.


This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.