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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Vagus Nerve Stimulator

The Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) is a medical treatment that involves delivering electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve Stimulator, which is new to me so I wanted to do research on it, definitely would help a variety of conditions like epilepsy, depression, multiple sclerosis, headache, pain and Alzheimer's disease. It would probably even help with gastroparesis as well, though I'd check with your doctor first to be one hundred percent sure. Gastroparesis and DTP are caused by vagus nerve damage. If it sends electric impulses down your vagus nerve, it might help your stomach muscles contract and help with gastric emptying. There isn't enough research about Gastroparesis and the VNS so I cannot give you a definitive answer on whether it would help with Gastroparesis or not. However, I did research on the VNS itself, below, because I am not really familiar with it yet. I hope the research helps and I am going to mention this procedure to my GI to see if he would recommend it or if it can be used for Gastroparesis. It has been approved by the FDA for cluster headaches, which I found interesting reading the articles below.

If you are not familiar with the vagus nerve and how much it controls, please read my other article. The link is below:


The Mayo Clinic describes the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) as:

"Vagus nerve stimulation is a procedure that involves implantation of a device that stimulates the vagus nerve with electrical impulses.

There's one vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen.

Vagus nerve stimulation is most often used to treat epilepsy when other treatments haven't worked. Vagus nerve stimulation is also a treatment for hard-to-treat depression that hasn't responded to typical therapies.

Researchers are currently studying vagus nerve stimulation as a potential treatment for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, headache, pain and Alzheimer's disease.

In conventional vagus nerve stimulation, a device is surgically implanted under the skin on your chest, and a wire is threaded under your skin connecting the device to the left vagus nerve. The right vagus nerve is not used because it carries fibers that supply nerves to the heart.

When activated, the device sends electrical signals along the vagus nerve to your brainstem, which then sends signals to certain areas in your brain.

New, noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation devices, which do not require surgical implantation, have been approved for use in Europe to treat epilepsy, depression and pain but have not yet been approved for use in the U.S. An implantable device that stimulates the right vagus nerve is also under study for the treatment of heart failure.

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.


Vagus nerve stimulation isn't a cure for epilepsy. Most people with epilepsy won't stop having seizures or taking epilepsy medication altogether after the procedure.

But many will have fewer seizures, up to 20 to 50 percent fewer. Seizure intensity may lessen as well.

It can take as long as 18 months of vagus nerve stimulation before you notice any significant reduction in seizures. Vagus nerve stimulation may also shorten the recovery time after a seizure.

People who've had vagus nerve stimulation to treat epilepsy may also experience improvements in mood and quality of life.

Research is still mixed on the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of depression.

Some studies suggest the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation for depression accrue over time, and it may take several months of treatment before you notice any improvements in your depression symptoms.

In addition, vagus nerve stimulation doesn't work for everybody, and it generally isn't meant to replace traditional treatments.

Additionally, some health insurance carriers may not pay for this procedure.

Studies of vagus nerve stimulation as a treatment for conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, migraine and multiple sclerosis, have been too small to draw any definitive conclusions about how well it may work for those problems. More research is needed."

In vagus nerve stimulation, an implanted pulse generator and lead wire stimulate the vagus nerve, which leads to stabilization of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

According to Wikipedia, it has a lot of different medical uses such as,

"Because the vagus nerve is associated with many different functions and brain regions, research is being done to determine its usefulness in treating other illnesses, including various anxiety disorders, Alzheimer's disease, migraines, fibromyalgia, obesity, and tinnitus.

Alcohol addiction
Atrial fibrillation
Bulimia nervosa
Burn-induced organ dysfunction
Chronic heart failure
Chronic intractable hiccups
Comorbid personality disorders
Coronary artery disease
Dravet syndrome
Heroin seeking behavior
Intestinal epithelial barrier breakdown
Lennox–Gastaut syndrome
Mood disorders in elderly population
Multiple sclerosis
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Peripheral arterial occlusion disease
Postoperative cognitive dysfunction in elderly patients
Rasmussen's encephalitis
Severe mental diseases
Spinal trigeminal neuronal
Transient focal cerebral ischemia
Trauma-hemorrhagic shock
Traumatic brain injury
Vaginal-cervical self-stimulation in women with complete spinal cord injury
Vegetative states after traumatic brain injury
Visceral pain-related affective memory
Other brain stimulation techniques used to treat depression include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES). Deep brain stimulation is currently under study as a treatment for depression. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is under study as a therapy for both depression and epilepsy. Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (TNS) is being researched at UCLA as a treatment for epilepsy."

Unless you have a surgically implanted device you actually cannot directly stimulate your vagus nerve; however, you can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve to relieve keyed up or shut down nervous system states. Remember, your vagus nerve passes through your belly, diaphragm, lungs, throat, inner ear, and facial muscles. Therefore, practices that change or control the actions of these areas of the body can influence the functioning of the vagus nerve through the mind-body feedback loop.

According to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, you can try these from the comfort of your living room:

"Humming: The vagus nerve passes through by the vocal cords and the inner ear and the vibrations of humming is a free and easy way to influence your nervous system states. Simply pick your favorite tune and you’re ready to go. Or if yoga fits your lifestyle you can “OM” your way to wellbeing. Notice and enjoy the sensations in your chest, throat, and head.

Conscious Breathing: The breath is one of the fastest ways to influence our nervous system states. The aim is to move the belly and diaphragm with the breath and to slow down your breathing. Vagus nerve stimulation occurs when the breath is slowed from our typical 10-14 breaths per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute. You can achieve this by counting the inhalation to 5, hold briefly, and exhale to a count of 10. You can further stimulate the vagus nerve by creating a slight constriction at the back of the throat and creating an “hhh”. Breathe like you are trying to fog a mirror to create the feeling in the throat but inhale and exhale out of the nose sound (in yoga this is called Ujjayi pranayam).

Valsalva Maneuver: This complicated name refers to a process of attempting to exhale against a closed airway. You can do this by keeping your mouth closed and pinching your nose while trying to breathe out. This increases the pressure inside of your chest cavity increasing vagal tone.

Diving Reflex: Considered a first rate vagus nerve stimulation technique, splashing cold water on your face from your lips to your scalp line stimulates the diving reflex. You can also achieve the nervous system cooling effects by placing ice cubes in a ziplock and holding the ice against your face and a brief hold of your breath. The diving reflex slows your heart rate, increases blood flow to your brain, reduces anger and relaxes your body. An additional technique that stimulates the diving reflex is to submerge your tongue in liquid. Drink and hold lukewarm water in your mouth sensing the water with your tongue.

Connection: Reach out for relationship. Healthy connections to others, whether this occurs in person, over the phone, or even via texts or social media in our modern world, can initiate regulation of our body and mind. Relationships can evoke the spirit of playfulness and creativity or can relax us into a trusting bond into another. Perhaps you engage in a lighthearted texting exchange with a friend. If you are in proximity with another you can try relationship expert, David Snarch’s simple, yet powerful exercise called 'hugging until relaxed.' The instructions are to simply 'stand on your own two feet, place your arms around your partner, focus on yourself, and to quiet yourself down, way down.'

Knowing practices for self-care are important. However, it is also important to know how and when to seek out professional therapeutic help. Asking for help can often be the hardest step. You do not need to walk the healing path alone."


The risks for the VNS, include side effects for the stimulator itself and surgical risks. According to the Mayo Clinic, they are,

"For most people, vagus nerve stimulation is safe. But it does have some risks, both from the surgery to implant the device and from the brain stimulation.

Surgery risks

Surgical complications with vagus nerve stimulation are rare and are similar to the dangers of having other types of surgery. They include:

Pain where the cut (incision) is made to implant the device
Incision scarring
Difficulty swallowing
Vocal cord paralysis, which is usually temporary, but can be permanent
Side effects after surgery

Some of the side effects and health problems associated with vagus nerve stimulation can include:

Voice changes
Throat pain
Chest pain
Breathing problems, especially during exercise
Difficulty swallowing
Abdominal pain or nausea
Tingling or prickling of the skin
Slowing of the heart rate (bradycardia)
For most people, side effects are tolerable. They may lessen over time, but some side effects may be bothersome for as long as you use vagus nerve stimulation.

Adjusting the electrical impulses can help minimize these effects. If side effects are intolerable, the device can be shut off temporarily or permanently."

EDIT September 28, 2017: A coma patient was comatose for fifteen years. Doctors placed a vagus stimulator in the coma patient and noticed that it increased the patient's brain activity. He woke up and can now communicate.

The article from The New York Post ( says,

"A car crash victim left in a coma for 15 years has shown signs of life after a [vagus] nerve stimulator was implanted into his chest by neurosurgeons.

Doctors in France were able to stimulate nerves and have been able to challenge the long-held belief that disorders of consciousness that persist for longer than 12 months are irreversible.

Dr. Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon said: 'By stimulating the vagus nerve, we show that it is possible to improve a patient’s presence in the world.'

The vagus nerve connects the brain to many other parts of the body, including the gut, and it is known to be important in waking up, alertness, and many other essential functions.

VNS stimulation was shown to revive consciousness in comatose patients.

Image Credit:

To test the ability of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to restore consciousness, the researchers wanted to select a difficult case to ensure that any improvements couldn’t be explained by chance.

They looked at a patient who had been lying in a vegetative state for more than a decade with no sign of improvement.

The results, which were published in the journal Current Biology, show that after one month of VNS, the patient’s attention, movements and brain activity significantly improved.

PET scans show increased brain activity in comatose patients after VNS.

The patient began responding to simple orders that had been impossible before and was able to follow an object with his eyes and turn his head upon request.

The patient’s mother reported an improved ability to stay awake when listening to his therapist reading a book.

After stimulation, the researchers also observed responses to 'threat' that had been absent. For example, when an examiner’s head suddenly approached the patient’s face, he reacted with surprise by opening his eyes wide.

After many years in a vegetative state, he had entered a state of minimal consciousness.

Brain scans also showed major changes and improvements in movement, sensation, and awareness and also showed increased brain functional connectivity.

A positron emission tomography scan showed increases in metabolic activity in both cortical and subcortical regions of the brain.

The scientists say it shows that the right intervention can yield changes in consciousness even in the most severe clinical cases.

Sirigu said: 'Brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished.'

The team now hopes the findings will also advance understanding of the capacity of our minds to produce conscious experience."


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