A new epilepsy treatment device, Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), may be able to stop patients from having epileptic seizures, says Naomi Lewkowski, who used to suffer from two to three seizures a day.

Lewkowski was taking various epilepsy medications (possibly Topamax) to control her seizures, but she found that they didn’t work for her. Lewkowski also found that the side effects were too harsh for her. Side effects of drugs like Topamax include birth defects in babies whose mothers take the drugs while pregnant. Eventually, Lewkowski heard about a new VNS device that serves as a kind of pacemaker for the brain that could help lessen her episodes of seizures. The VNS device is implanted in the patient’s chest and sends certain impulses to the patient’s brain via the neck.

Of the device, Dr. Blanca Vazquez-Santana of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center of New York University Langone Medical Center says, “just like the heart has a beat, the brain has a beat. Epilepsy occurs when there are abnormal electrical discharges of the brain. VNS can get the beat back to normal.”

Lewkowski says that as soon as she recovered from the surgery, her seizures were all but gone. She currently only has seizures about once or twice a month. Her success has many people wondering if the VNS device can cure epilepsy. For now, prescription medications like Topamax are considered the primary treatment for epileptic seizure prevention, but the drugs offer side effects that can seem more costly to patients than the condition itself. For example, babies exposed to Topamax in-utero can be born with birth defects, including PPHN, spina bifida, oral clefts, neural tube defects and heart, lung and brain defects. VNS is not considered to be 100 percent effective at preventing seizures yet, but 60 percent of patients show a favorable response to the device.

“For all comers in a clinic, about 60 percent respond well,” Vazquez-Santana said. “Even on those, it helps only partially; many can reduce the amount of anti seizure drugs they take, and in turn reduce their side effects.”

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