Gastric Electrical Stimulation for Gastroparesis

If you get severe gastroparesis, and medication or dietary changes have not improved your quality of life, then you may be a suitable candidate for this procedure.

Gastric electrical stimulation involves fitting a gastric (stomach) pacemaker below the rib cage that stimulates a mild electric current to the nerves in your stomach, reducing the frequency of common symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, early fullness after meals and tummy bloating.

The procedure is minimally invasive and performed under general anaesthesia (you'll be asleep).

Using keyhole surgery, your consultant will insert 2 electrodes (wires) on the wall of your stomach. These wires are connected to the pacemaker device which is placed beneath the skin, on your abdomen. The pacemaker is about the size of a large pocket-watch. The surgery usually takes 1 hour.

Recovery and results

You can expect to stay in hospital for several nights. Once your consultant has discharged you, you will need someone to drive you home.

Patients rarely notice the electric stimulation so the pacemaker should not affect your daily activities. The pacemaker is programmed to generate the electrical stimulation automatically, so you will not need to do anything.

The response to the stomach pacemaker varies from patient to patient. You may experience symptom relief soon after the operation or you may not see any improvement until the pacemaker programme has been adjusted.

The adjustment is made using a programmer that communicates with the pacemaker by wireless technology. The programming takes only a few minutes and is done in the outpatient clinic.

Preparing for surgery

Smoking should be stopped several weeks before your operation.

Maintaining a healthy weight can help patients avoid further complications.

Regular exercise can also help (but make sure you consult your GP first).

There should be no shaving or waxing of the area to be cut in the week leading up to the operation.

Having a bath or shower on the day of the operation is a good idea.

Risks and complications

Every surgical procedure carries some degree of risk. Although rare, potential complications of gastric electrical stimulation include:

  • infection at the implant site
  • little or no improvement of symptoms
  • various risks associated with keyhole surgery
  • problems associated with the pacing wires (e.g. bowel blockage).

Are there any alternative procedures?

Depending on the severity of your condition, there are other treatments available for gastroparesis including:

  • endoscopy and injection of botulinum toxin into the lower stomach
  • gastrectomy
  • pyloroplasty.

Your consultant will discuss all the options available and recommend the best course of action to treat your condition.

Credit: Nuffield Health

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