Surgical Technology Makes Advances in Epilepsy Treatment

Epilepsy, the fourth most common neurological disease in the world, affects over nine million people in developed countries alone. Although drug therapy is successful in controlling seizures in about 70 percent of patients, a third of epileptics don’t respond to medication and find themselves undergoing invasive surgery that essentially removes the part of the brain that triggers the seizures.

Now, an alternative treatment for the disease, called vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy, can reduce the number or even eliminate the need for the drugs epileptics depend on. This specific procedure requires only minor surgery, and can be performed on an outpatient basis.

During the procedure, two small incisions are made, one in the upper chest are and the other in the neck. From there, a pulse generator is implanted and electrodes are run under the skin to the site of the next incision where they are attached to the vagus nerve. After a two-week recovery period, the generator is turned on and occasional pulses are sent to the vagus nerve, which interrupt the nerve signals between the brain and body which can trigger seizures. If a patient feels a seizure coming on, they can also apply a magnetic device to the generator themselves.

First approved for difficult epilepsy cases in 1997, VNS treatment has since helped more than 75,000 patients in the United States alone. Cyberonics, the company who has developed several iterations of VNS therapy, is exploring other potential uses for its technology, including treating depression, sleep apnea, and chronic heart failure.

If you'd like to learn more about how to enter this field, visit our surgical technology course page.