Many people with depression struggle and are always searching for a treatment that lasts a long time. While drugs have been the primary therapy for depression, many people do not respond to them. Or even when they respond, the benefits are short-lived and the drugs may also have potent side effects.
Recently, vagus nerve stimulation has been introduced as a treatment for depression. Vagus nerve stimulation has been used for the treatment of certain epileptic disorders and over time, it became apparent that these individuals started to develop an improvement in their mood. So now vagal nerve stimulation is being tried as a therapy for chronic depression.
Vagal nerve stimulation is a small surgical procedure. A thin electrode is placed near the vagus nerve in the neck and the wire is then connected to a pulse generator, which is implanted in the upper chest. The pulse generator emits electrical signals which stimulates the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve stimulation in turn results in mood improvement- at least that is the theory.
Vagus nerve stimulation is not standard therapy and is only used in people in whom the standard anti-depressant therapies have failed. In addition, vagus nerve stimulation may be an option for people who are taking multiple drugs and have failed electroconvulsive therapy. Unfortunately, vagus nerve stimulation does not work in all depressed people. The few studies have not always shown convincing results and the results are also variable. Even among psychiatrists, the therapy is not accepted and many health insurance companies do not cover the procedure. In addition, the costs of vagal nerve stimulation are not trivial- considering that it may not even work.
While the procedure is easy to perform, it does have side effects that range from neck pain, infection, damage to the vagus nerve, difficulty breathing, nausea and slowing of heart rate. In rare cases, one may develop vocal cord paralysis, voice changes, persistent cough and throat pain. While most side effects are tolerable, many people find the side effects annoying in the long run.