Gastric Pacemaker

Our physicians are turning to a device typically used in adults with heart problems to help children with severe stomach conditions.

In June of 2009, surgeons implanted a pacemaker in a 16-year-old patient with gastroparesis, a debilitating stomach condition that affects the way the body processes food. This was the first time the procedure had been performed in a child at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which is now one of only a handful of institutions across the country offering this type of treatment in children.

Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach contracts less often and less powerfully, causing food and liquids to stay in the stomach for a long time. In as many as 60 percent of children with gastroparesis, the cause is not known. The condition often leaves children feeling constantly bloated and nauseated and can result in malnourishment and significant weight loss. In severe cases, symptoms may prevent children from attending school or taking part in other daily activities.

When used as a treatment for gastroparesis, the pacemaker is inserted into the abdomen, with electrical wires leading to the stomach. It sends electrical impulses to stimulate the stomach after eating.

The pacemaker is surgically implanted under the skin and is connected to two electrodes placed on the stomach wall. It tells the stomach to empty at a certain frequency. The initial settings are fairly low and, as with a pacemaker in the heart, the settings can be changed as needed. It empties the stomach, alleviating bloating, vomiting and nausea.

Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital is one of the leading programs in the country in the field of diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal motility problems in children. It is the only children’s hospital in the nation that offers the full spectrum of treatment options for motility disorders, including diagnosis, medications, endoscopic procedures, surgical options, pacemakers and follow-up care.

Pacemaker Patients

Gastric pacemaker is an advanced therapy, which means patients who are appropriate for this type of intervention are those who have not benefited from standard treatments. The candidacy process begins with interaction between the patient’s primary care physician and his or her pediatric gastroenterologist. When standard therapies prove ineffective, physicians may refer to Nationwide Children's for evaluation. Our team will then gather a complete medical history, examine the patient, and may conduct additional testing to determine if gastric pacemaker therapy is appropriate.