Health Check: VNS for seizures
Suzanne and Raymond Chevrette have been married for more than 30 years.
During that time, Raymond will tell you his wife has had seizures weekly, some of them lasting 20 minutes or longer. She doesn't remember them but she does know one thing.
"They got really bad," Suzanne said, to the point where she was "out of it."
"She was having three or so a week, and she's tried a couple medications and it really wasn't stopping them," said Dr. Charles Kanaly of Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.
When Suzanne was referred to Kanaly, he suggested VNS therapy. It's not new. This device-based treatment was FDA approved to treat seizures in 1997, but in Kanaly's opinion it's underutilized for uncontrolled seizures.
"There's a little pacemaker battery and then (a) little wire, and basically we wrap these coils around the nerve so the nerve is running down in the neck," Kanaly said.
The battery is placed in an incision in the crease under the clavicle.
The procedure is done on an outpatient basis and takes about 45 minutes.
"It puts a little electrical stimulation over the vagus nerve that runs down through the neck into the main organs in the body, and that sends a signal up in to the brain that helps decrease seizure frequency," Kanaly said.
Suzanne said she hasn't had a seizure since the device was implanted on March 5.
"Certainly can't promise that with every person who gets these, but it's a great outcome, definitely," Kanaly said.
VNS therapy is indicated for people with epilepsy who don't benefit from or can't tolerate anti-seizure medications. In addition to treating seizures, the FDA has also approved it, more recently, to treat people with severe depression.