The authors undertook this study to analyze the efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in a large consecutive series of children 18 years of age and younger with treatment-resistant epilepsy and compare the safety and efficacy in children under 12 years of age with the outcomes in older children.
The authors retrospectively reviewed 141 consecutive cases involving children (75 girls and 66 boys) with treatment-resistant epilepsy in whom primary VNS implantation was performed by the senior author between November 1997 and April 2008 and who had at least 1 year of follow-up since implantation. The patients' mean age at vagus nerve stimulator insertion was 11.1 years (range 1–18 years). Eighty-six children (61.0%) were younger than 12 years at time of VNS insertion (which constitutes off-label usage of this device).
Follow-up was complete for 91.8% of patients and the mean duration of VNS therapy in these patients was 5.2 years (range 25 days–11.4 years). Seizure frequency significantly improved with VNS therapy (mean reduction 58.9%, p < 0.0001) without a significant reduction in antiepileptic medication burden (median number of antiepileptic drugs taken 3, unchanged). Reduction in seizure frequency of at least 50% occurred in 64.8% of patients and 41.4% of patients experienced at least a 75% reduction. Major (3) and minor (6) complications occurred in 9 patients (6.4%) and included 1 deep infection requiring device removal, 1 pneumothorax, 2 superficial infections treated with antibiotics, 1 seroma/hematoma treated with aspiration, persistent cough in 1 patient, severe but transient neck pain in 1 patient, and hoarseness in 2 patients. There was no difference in efficacy or complications between children 12 years of age and older (FDA-approved indication) and those younger than 12 years of age (off-label usage). Linear regression analyses did not identify any demographic and clinical variables that predicted response to VNS.
Vagus nerve stimulation is a safe and effective treatment for treatment-resistant epilepsy in young adults and children. Over 50% of patients experienced at least 50% reduction in seizure burden. Children younger than 12 years had a response similar to that of older children with no increase in complications. Given the efficacy of this device and the devastating effects of persistent epilepsy during critical developmental epochs, randomized trials are needed to potentially expand the indications for VNS to include younger children.