Stomach Pacemaker

February 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Imagine if you couldn't even eat a sandwich without getting sick to your stomach ? That's what happens to patients with gastroparesis, which paralyzes the stomach so it can't function normally. There's no known cure, but a new kind of device gets it pumping to help patients beat the nausea.Kandra Burleson used to spend most days too nauseous to eat, or even leave the house.

"Not going anywhere, not eating anything," Burleson told Ivanhoe. "Just laying in bed or running to the bathroom."

Burleson's stomach couldn't digest food. No medicine or treatment helped.

"I did not want to live like this anymore," Burleson said. "It's not living."

Her last resort -- surgery to give her a new kind of stomach stimulator. Surgeons implant a generator in the abdomen. Wires send electrical signals to the stomach to suppress the nausea.

"It's nothing painful or anything like that, but you can feel it sending the movement into your stomach," Burleson said.

It isn't a cure, but studies show the implant can reduce chronic nausea and vomiting by more than 80 percent and reduce hospital visits for people with severe stomach problems by up to 70 percent."

"By suppressing the nausea, it will work well enough that they can continue to keep the food down," Todd Wood, a general surgeon at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital in Houston, Texas, told Ivanhoe. "They can avoid the malnutrition, the dehydration, and they can get on with their lives."

Five months after getting the implant, Burleson has gained 15 pounds and is doing a little better each day.

"Just to feel better a little bit, I promised myself that if I could get my life back," Burleson said. "I would make the best of it, and that's what I'm doing."

A young woman taking control of her life, one meal at a time.

In many of gastroparesis cases like Burleson's, doctors don't know why patients develop the disorder. The most common known cause of the condition is type I or type II diabetes.

Lindsey Klingensmith
Media Relations
Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital
Houston, TX
(713) 222-CARE