Gastroparesis affects up to half of all people with diabetes, and can occur as early as the teenage years. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach is partially paralyzed due to nerve damage brought on by high blood sugars. The stomach loses its ability to contract, which inhibits food from being properly moved to the small intestines.
According to a Johns Hopkins Health Insider news release, there are tests being conducted with a stomach pacemaker that could tremendously benefit people with type 1 and 2 diabetes who suffer from gastroparesis. The device is implanted under the skin and is connected by wires to the surface of the stomach. Electrodes are sewn to the outer layer of the stomach and apply a mild electrical stimulus that causes stomach contractions. When people with gastroparesis ingest a meal, they turn on the pacemakers by waving a magnet over the surface of the area where the pacemaker has been implanted. After the meal has been digested, the pacemaker is then turned off.
According to Marvin M. Schuster, MD, gastroenterologist at the Marvin S. Schuster Center for Digestive and Motility Disorders at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, “70 percent of people with serious gastroparesis report improvements in their symptoms.”
Current drug treatments for gastroparesis include Reglan and Propulsid, which stimulate the nerve endings of the stomach that haven’t been damaged from gastroparesis. Schuster points out, however, that these drug treatments have little effect “if there are not enough healthy nerves remaining.” According to Schuster, an electrical pacemaker can save the stomach’s nerve endings in a person with gastroparesis “if electrical pacing is started in the early stages of degeneration.” Additionally, the pacemaker can drastically reduce the risk of malnutrition in an individual with gastroparesis, and vastly improve quality of life.
Tests for the pacemaker are in the early stages. Schuster says that the continued testing and approval process of the stomach pacemaker could take years.