Right-sided Vagus Nerve Stimulation as a Treatment for Refractory Epilepsy in Humans


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. J. Wheless at Texas Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, 6431 Fannin Street, MSB 7.044, Houston, TX 77030, U.S.A. E-mail: james.w.wheless@uth.tmc.edu


Summary: Purpose: We present three children who underwent right-sided vagus nerve stimulation (R-VNS). This treatment option for people with refractory epilepsy has not been described in children.

Methods: We reviewed our database of >350 patients implanted with vagus nerve stimulators and now describe our experience in three patients with R-VNS for the treatment of intractable seizures. All three patients improved dramatically with left-sided vagus nerve stimulation (L-VNS), but the devices had to be removed because of infection. The patients were thought to be at high risk for nerve injury if they were reapproached for L-VNSs; therefore R-VNSs were implanted.

Results: All three patients with an R-VNS had a reduction in seizures. Our first patient has had an R-VNS for 5 years; he has been seizure free for >2 years on R-VNS monotherapy. The second patient had an R-VNS for 8 months. His seizure control improved slightly, but not as dramatically as with L-VNS. The third child has had an R-VNS for >7 months and has cessation of his most disabling seizure type (generalized tonic–clonic seizures). None of the patients had cardiac side effects from therapeutic R-VNS. However, two of the three patients had respiratory events with R-VNS.

Conclusions: VNS is known to be an effective treatment in pharmacoresistant epilepsy. R-VNS should be considered if a patient has significant benefit from L-VNS but is unable to continue with L-VNS. R-VNS appears also to have antiepilepsy effects. Additionally, our case report suggests that in some patients, a differential response is found regarding seizure control with R-VNS or L-VNS, raising the question whether L-VNS failures should pursue a trial of R-VNS. Patients should be cautioned and monitored for reactive airway disease if they undergo R-VNS. More research is needed to compare the effects of right- and left-sided VNS on cardiac and pulmonary function in humans and to determine which has the best antiseizure effect.