The vagus nerve is the longest of the human body’s cranial nerves. It runs from the brain to the abdomen passing through the throat, heart, and lungs. The vagus nerve provides sensory functions for these parts of the body, as well as, motor function to the heart and intestine muscles including lowering your resting heart rate and facilitating digestion. For years, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) devices have been FDA-cleared and used for treating epilepsy, clinical depression, and chronic inflammation that would not respond to other treatments.1
People have two complementary nervous systems – sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic network of nerves carries signals throughout the body when there is danger or risk to be on alert. This is referred to as the “fight or flight” response. The parasympathetic network, which includes the vagus nerve, carries signals to the body when it is time to relax and decrease activity in the body and organs. This system is called the “rest and digest” response.2
Traditional VNS is performed through an invasive, pacemaker like device surgically implanted under the skin of the chest with a small wire running to the vagus nerve to send electrical signals to the brain. New developments and approvals have produced noninvasive devices that can be attached to the ear to send the electrical signals to the targeted nerve.3 Through the years, the science of VNS has become more widely accepted and has prompted further research to use the treatment method on several new diseases and conditions.
Many of the systems that are controlled by the vagus nerve are responsible for opioid withdrawal. Among these common symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping or reducing opioid use are anxiety, sweating, vomiting, belly cramps, diarrhea, fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, high blood pressure, and seizures.4 The fear of overcoming these symptoms often deters sufferers from seeking recovery. The need for new ways to help people get through withdrawal is urgent as the opioid epidemic increases.
VNS is a promising treatment to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms. Major symptoms such as anxiety, rapid heartbeat, digestive issues, and seizures are all controlled by the vagus nerve. One new, noninvasive device for this purpose is Speranza Therapeutics S.T. Genesis. The FDA-cleared device targets several branches of cranial nerves including the vagus nerve. It has been shown to rapidly reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms within 20 minutes of placement. By administering neurostimulation treatment, S.T. Genesis is a revolutionary way to manage opioid withdrawal and provide an opportunity for patients to transition to the next level of care.