Pacemaker Provides New Hope for Children with Stomach Problems

August 19, 2009

Physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, have used the pacemaker, typically used to help adult patients with heart problems, to alleviate symptoms in children with severe stomach problems.

Physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, have used the pacemaker, typically used to help adult patients with heart problems, to alleviate symptoms in children with severe stomach problems.

In June, surgeons at Children’s implanted a pacemaker into the stomach of a 16-year-old patient with gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach contracts less often and less powerfully, which causes patients to suffer from bloating and nausea and sometimes malnourishment and weight loss. The pacemaker, inserted in the abdomen with wires that led to the stomach, sent electrical impulses to the stomach to signal it to empty after eating. For the patient at Children’s, emptying the stomach alleviated bloating, nausea, and vomiting, according to pediatric surgeon Steven Teich, MD, surgical director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor of surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

"The pacemaker is surgically implanted under the skin and is connected to two electrodes placed on the stomach wall,” explained Teich. “It tells the stomach to empty at a certain frequency. The initial settings are fairly low and, as with a pacemaker in the heart, we can change the settings as needed.”

According to the researchers, “pacemakers have been used for years in adults with delayed gastric emptying.” The hospital received approval from an Institutional Review Board to study the pacemaker in children with the same problem under a humanitarian device exemption, according to the researchers, and, despite the novelty of the procedure in children in adolescents, the initial results of the implant’s effect are “promising.”

“In patients who have received this type of treatment, nearly all symptoms were resolved within two weeks,” said pediatric gastroenterologist Hayat Mousa, MD, medical director of the Motility Center at Children’s and associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Ohio State’s College of Medicine. “Previous treatment options, including medications, have been much less effective.”