Pacemaker Treats Stomach Paralysis


DALLAS. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — 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.

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

Finally she met Dr. Terilyn Scott-Winful, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, Texas, who diagnosed gastroparesis, a rare condition caused by a nerve dysfunction that results in stomach paralysis.  The most severe cases require a feeding tube, an option Davila and her doctor hoped to avoid.

“So with gastroparesis, you have delayed accommodation so food can’t be distended and made room for, and then it’s not being ground up and pushed out,” explained Dr. Scott-Winful. (Read Full Interview)

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 kind of gives the stomach a shock to try to get those nerves shocked to give the muscles the impulse to be able to move and to contract, to push food through the stomach,” said Scott-Winful.

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

Dr. Scott-Winful said, “(She’s)Pretty much, back on the mat, fighting. Erica is a fighter for sure.”

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.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath Supervising Producer; Don Wall, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Mark Montgomery, Videographer.





REPORT:       MB #4240


BACKGROUND: Gastroparesis is a condition in which the spontaneous movement of the muscles in your stomach does not occur normally. Ordinarily, strong muscular contractions propel food through your digestive tract. With gastroparesis, your stomach’s motility works poorly or not at all. This prevents your stomach from emptying properly. Gastroparesis can interfere with normal digestion, cause nausea and vomiting, and cause problems with blood sugar levels and nutrition. Signs and symptoms include vomiting, nausea, a feeling of fullness after eating just a few bites, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, changes in blood sugar levels, lack of appetite, and weight loss and malnutrition. Gastroparesis is believed to be caused by damage to the vagus nerve that controls the stomach muscles. The vagus nerve helps manage the complex processes in your digestive tract, including signaling the muscles in your stomach to contract and push food into the small intestine. A damaged vagus nerve can’t send signals normally to your stomach muscles. This may cause food to remain in your stomach longer, rather than move normally into your small intestine to be digested. Changes to your diet and medications are the usual treatments, but those do not always work.

TREATMENT: When the usual therapies do not work, a gastric stimulator should be considered. The device is approximately the size of a cardiac pacemaker and is implanted subcutaneously in the abdominal wall. The device delivers electrical stimuli to the stomach wall. Published reports indicate that this type of therapy leads to significant reductions in the frequency of nausea and vomiting. Studies performed at Kansas University Medical Center have positive outcomes associated with gastric electrical stimulation (GES) therapy. Days of hospitalization were found to be reduced dramatically in gastroparetic patients treated with this therapy, from an average of 60 days per year to 17 days per year. Additionally, the estimated cost savings was $65,000 per patient after stimulator implant in the first year.(Source:

DIET FOR GASTROPARESIS: Even with a gastric stimulator, a proper diet is still required for those with gastroparesis. Experts say avoid high fat foods, limit bulky, high fiber foods, and try to eat a soft diet with foods like soft-cooked vegetables and yogurt.



Susan Hall

Public Relations



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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Scott-Winful, M.D.

Read the entire Q&A