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    Wednesday, February 19, 2003

    Soothing an Irritation of the Nerves: Most people with seizure disorders can control the random firing of neurons in their brains with medication. When that fails, they can try surgery. Brain surgery for epilepsy gets the most press, but there’s also the vagus nerve stimulator:

    A battery-powered stimulator -- about the size of a silver dollar -- is implanted in the upper left chest, sometimes under the collar bone. Every few minutes, the stimulator sends 30-second pulses of electricity through thin wires that run under the skin to the left vagus nerve, which carries the electrical signal into the brain.

    If patients feel a seizure coming on, they can wave a magnet over the battery to stimulate the nerve and stop the seizure.

    The procedure involves wrapping an electrode around the vagal nerve as it passes through the neck. The electrode sends electrical signals backwards along the vagus nerve to the brain. The vagus nerve’s site of origin in the brain is close to a lot of other areas that are responsible for seizure activity. The incoming electrical impulse from the stimulator confuses those adjacent brain areas and aborts their seizure signals somehow.

    It isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t take away seizures completely:

    Dr. Henry Bartkowski, a neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron, says doctors want people to understand that vagus nerve stimulation is not a cure. Rather, it is a way to have fewer, less severe seizures and to take fewer medications, at least in most cases.

    Unfortunately, one in three patients sees no improvement at all with the stimulator.

    It also isn’t without side effects:

    Since the vagus nerve controls heart rate, breathing, stomach secretions, the windpipe and the voice, stimulation of the nerve can have an effect on any of those areas. Most common is a raspy voice if the stimulator turns on while the patient is talking. Some people can have trouble sleeping. Few people have heart rhythm problems.

    Still, if you’re having twenty seizures a day, and it can decrease that to three, I suppose it would be worth the try.

    posted by Sydney on 2/19/2003 09:03:00 PM 0 comments


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