Vagal Nerve Stimulation: Overview and Implications for Anesthesiologists

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Vagal nerve stimulation is an important adjunctive therapy for medically refractory epilepsy and major depression. Additionally, it may prove effective in treating obesity, Alzheimer's disease, and some neuropsychiatic disorders. As the number of approved indications increases, more patients are becoming eligible for surgical placement of a commercial vagal nerve stimulator (VNS). Initial VNS placement typically requires general anesthesia, and patients with previously implanted devices may present for other surgical procedures requiring anesthetic management. In this review, we will focus on the indications for vagal nerve stimulation (both approved and experimental), proposed therapeutic mechanisms for vagal nerve stimulation, and potential perioperative complications during initial VNS placement. Anesthetic considerations during initial device placement, as well as anesthetic management issues for patients with a preexisting VNS, are reviewed.

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