Bianca Castro

Pacemaker Treats Stomach Paralysis

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as five million Americans may suffer from gastroparesis, a stomach paralysis that makes it very difficult to digest food.

It affects people with diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and for one-third of the patients the cause is unknown. There’s now a treatment giving people back their lives.

Erica Davila has had stomach problems her whole life. She was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. The pain and nausea became so bad she had to leave her job as an operating room nurse.

“It’s a horrible way to live. I felt like I couldn’t be myself and didn’t have an interest in food," Davila said.

She was diagnosed gastroparesis, a rare condition caused by a nerve dysfunction that results in stomach paralysis. The most severe cases require a feeding tube.

Dr. Ken Brown, a gastroenterologist at Medical City Plano, often treats the condition and said a normal stomach gets an electrical signal to push food through with no problem.

"So with gastroparesis, it happens when the stomach itself doesn't accommodate very well and those power lines that push stuff through, well, something is off," he said.

Medication and diet therapy didn’t work, so a gastric stimulator, similar to a pacemaker for the heart, was inserted into Davila’s stomach. It sends an electrical impulse to jump start the stomach muscles.

"It sends an electrical impulse and tells the stomach to start contracting," said Brown. 

“Life is far better now. I’m able to eat more than I used to,” Davila said. Including practicing martial arts with her husband Brian.

Doctors use at least five different tests to diagnose gastroparesis and rule out conditions that may cause similar symptoms.  People with gastroparesis are encouraged to eat a modified diet that is low in sugar, fiber, dairy, and wheat.

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