Late-Onset Heart Block: A Rare Complication of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy

In the realm of epilepsy management, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy has emerged as a beacon of hope for individuals grappling with drug-resistant seizures. However, amidst this innovative treatment modality’s promise lies a shadow of potential complications, some of which can be severe and life-altering. This article delves into the intricacies of a rare but consequential case involving a 45-year-old woman who encountered complete heart block and transient ventricular asystole as a complication of VNS therapy.

Case Presentation: A Journey Through Uncertainty

A 45-year-old woman has had refractory catamenial focal epilepsy since she was young. She has been taking five different antiepileptic drugs and has also had VNS therapy implanted for eight and a half years. Recently, she went to the emergency department because she had trouble breathing, chest pain, and felt dizzy.

While the medical team was observing her, they saw that she had a complete atrioventricular (AV) block, and her heart rate slowed down to less than 20 beats per minute, which happened at the same time as her seizure activity. Further investigation showed that her seizures were linked to her VNS therapy, which caused her to experience recurrent symptomatic AVN block and transient ventricular asystole.

Understanding the Terrain: Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy Unveiled

VNS therapy, a testament to the advancements in neurology, offers a glimmer of hope for individuals grappling with drug-resistant epilepsy. Surgically implanting an electrical device that delivers recurrent stimulation to the vagus nerve, it provides a beacon of light amidst the darkness of uncontrolled seizures. Yet, this beacon is not without its shadows. While generally considered safe, VNS therapy carries a spectrum of potential risks, ranging from intraoperative bradycardia to late-onset complications such as complete heart block and transient ventricular asystole—a rare occurrence but one that can have profound implications for patient care.

Charting the Course: Navigating Treatment Challenges

In the face of uncertain circumstances, the medical team undertook the task of navigating the complex waters of late-onset heart block. The deactivation of the patient’s VNS emerged as a symbol of hope, signifying the resolution of her symptoms and providing a semblance of stability amid adversity. However, as the team deliberated on potential treatment options, uncertainties lingered, casting a shadow of doubt over the path ahead. What underlies this unforeseen complication? Is it an isolated occurrence, or could it indicate underlying complexities yet to be unearthed? These are questions that require further exploration and consideration.

Reflections and Insights: Lessons Learned

Upon resolving the chaos and reducing uncertainty, medical professionals engaged in self-reflection. The case under consideration served as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between innovation and risk, underscoring the need for vigilance and humility when confronted with uncertainty. The case in question brought to light the intricacies of VNS therapy and its potential complications, thus offering valuable insights into the complexities of epilepsy management. Consequently, it has paved the way for enhanced awareness and informed decision-making in clinical practice.


The management of epilepsy is a constantly evolving field that requires a great deal of courage, compassion, and dedication to patient care. VNS therapy is a promising option for those struggling with drug-resistant seizures; however, it is crucial to remain vigilant and aware of the potential risks and complications that may arise during treatment. As a clinician, it is important to collaborate with colleagues, reflect on experiences, and strive for excellence to ensure the safest and most effective outcomes for each patient. By working together to enhance patient care, we can offer hope, compassion, and a brighter future for those affected by epilepsy.


Warnock J, Ashcroft C, Sabado RJ, Keithler A, Perdikis S. Complete Heart Block and Ventricular Asystole Caused by Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy. Cureus. 2024 Jan 31. doi:10.7759/cureus.53314

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