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Gastric pacing uses an electrical device to regulate stomach contractions. It can be used in the management of gastroparesis, where the stomach doesn’t empty in a timely fashion and causes symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Some patients with diabetes and obesity can also benefit from gastric pacing to control their feelings of satiety and hunger. This can help them make diet and lifestyle changes to address health problems caused by their conditions.
This technology requires surgery to implant the pacemaker device and leads. Early technology included external leads, which were somewhat cumbersome for patients. Newer devices are entirely internal. They function much like cardiac pacemakers, with leads placed at key points in muscle tissue to allow a low electrical current to stimulate the patient. The patient is given several weeks to recover from surgery before the device is activated.
In patients with gastroparesis, gastric pacing encourages the stomach to contract at a normal rate of around three cycles per minute. These contractions propagate to release the stomach contents into the gut, which can start metabolizing them. Rippling contractions from the stomach also encourage the intestinal tract to contract to move food. Coordination between the stomach and intestines is critical for digestion and metabolism. Interruptions in this process can cause problems throughout digestion, which may lead to nutrient malabsorption and other health issues.
Invasive gastric pacing procedures may only be recommended if a patient doesn’t respond to other treatments. Delayed stomach emptying can cause extremely unpleasant symptoms that may grow worse over time. Medications or treatment of an underlying condition can often resolve the issue, but if they don’t, it may be necessary to consider pacing. The gentle electrical stimulation can keep stomach activity on track, and may eliminate feelings of discomfort after metals.
Studies in populations of people with health problems caused by diabetes or obesity have found that gastric pacing may be helpful for some patients. The device can be used to trigger a feeling of fullness, which can correct imbalances in patients who have problems determining when they have eaten enough. This can help people stick to diets more effectively and reduce food intake to address health concerns. Insurance companies may not cover gastric pacing in these cases, because it is considered an experimental procedure by some insurers. Patients with concerns about affordability may want to consider requesting a preauthorization letter or asking about financial assistance.