What is a Gastric Pacemaker?

Meshell Powell

A gastric pacemaker is a device that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the stomach. This is particularly useful in stomach conditions that cause persistent nausea and vomiting, such as gastroparesis, a condition that causes the stomach to empty more slowly than normal in spite of no blockage being present. The use of this type of pacemaker is a relatively new development, but early research and patient use suggests promising results for this method of treatment.

A gastric pacemaker is typically implanted via laparosopic surgery.
A gastric pacemaker is typically implanted via laparosopic surgery.

This type of pacemaker is a fully reversible type of therapy that involves surgical implantation of the device. The typical method of implantation is through a laparosopic surgery, which involves placing one or more small holes in the abdomen. This method generally involves a considerably faster healing time for the patient than an open surgery. After placement, the surgeon will be able to turn the pacemaker on and off as necessary. When the device is no longer needed, it may also be surgically removed.

A patient must show a history of intolerance or unresponsiveness to other treatments before qualifying for a gastric pacemaker.
A patient must show a history of intolerance or unresponsiveness to other treatments before qualifying for a gastric pacemaker.

The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, has issued guidelines concerning which patients may qualify for this procedure. For instance, the patient must have been experiencing symptoms for at least one year in order to be considered for a gastric pacemaker. The patient must also show a history of intolerance or unresponsiveness to other treatments, including the use of anti-nausea medications. Another qualification for this procedure is that the patient must have at least seven episodes of nausea or vomiting per week.

A gastric pacemaker is used to stimulate the muscles in the stomach.
A gastric pacemaker is used to stimulate the muscles in the stomach.

The use of this kind of pacemaker is relatively new, and as such, there are only a handful of centers qualified to perform the procedure. Many insurance companies are also refusing to pay for this procedure until further testing and research have been completed. With this said, it still may be beneficial for the patient to at least discuss the possibility of using the pacemaker with a medical professional if symptoms are not managed adequately with conventional treatment methods.

Research and clinical trials relating to the gastric pacemaker are ongoing, and current evidence shows tremendous promise in this area. Some early versions of the device were recalled due to a wiring defect, but improvements continue to be made. As more research is done and as technology continues to improve, many medical professionals expect this type of device to become more widely used and accepted. As of 2010, it may be a good solution for many patients suffering from otherwise uncontrollable nausea and vomiting.

A gastric pacemaker releases electrical impulses, which can reduce the amount of nausea experienced by the patient.
A gastric pacemaker releases electrical impulses, which can reduce the amount of nausea experienced by the patient.

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