Gastric Stimulation - Obesity Surgery Guide

Gastric Stimulation

This is a new and highly innovative procedure in which a device similar to a pacemaker is implanted into the abdomen.  It emits electrical signals which are sent to the brain; these signals then trigger feelings of fullness or satiety. 

It is still very much in the experimental phase and is currently being trialled in Canada and Europe.  However, early tests have indicated that it has the potential to cause weight loss but not to the same degree as other weight loss surgeries.

How does it work?

The device is very similar in size and shape to heart pacemakers.  It is comprised of three parts: the pacemaker or stimulator itself, a connection lead through which electrical signals are sent and a ‘programmer’. 

The stimulator is designed to emit electronic signals or pulses: the connecting lead is a long, thin insulated wire which transmits signals from the stimulator to the stomach: the programmer is very similar to a remote control and allows the surgeon to check if the device is working correctly.  He/she can also adjust the frequency of the signals.

The signals sent by the device enter the nervous system via the abdomen.  They travel to the brain upon where they mimic the sensation of fullness.  This sensation is received by the patient who then reduces their food intake. 

The idea is that by triggering these feelings of fullness the patient will eat less food and so will lose weight.

It is a minor procedure which can be performed as keyhole surgery and under a local anaesthetic.  The surgeon would implant the device under the skin on the front of the abdomen.  He/she will use a hand held device or remote control which is connected to the programmer (computer).  He/she can then check if it is functioning correctly as well as controlling the emission of the signals.

This is in effect a battery operated device: the battery has a shelf life of around two to five years and a replacement will be required after that.

If I have this device are there any precautions I should take?

As this is very similar to cardiac pacemakers you will need to take similar precautions.  These include the following:

  • If you are in any location which uses metal detectors, such as airports, make sure that you mention to any personnel that you have this device implanted.  There is the risk of it being over stimulated via their metal detectors.
  • Be careful when near any device that transmits electronic signals or pulsating magnetic fields.  These include loudspeakers, hair clippers etc.

    Devices such as mobile phones and microwave ovens will not affect your gastric stimulator.

  • If you have to undergo any form of medical treatment such as defibrillation or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan then be sure to mention about your gastric stimulator to medical staff beforehand. 

And, there are the usual but very small risks associated with any surgical procedure.

Is it effective?

This procedure is still in its early days and as such there is no long term data to prove its efficiency or otherwise.

The results from some early trials suggest that it could be another option for the treatment of excess weight gain but more data is needed.

Can anyone have this stimulator?

If you have a BMI of 40 or over (morbidly obese) and can show that for the last five years you have made every effort to treat your obesity then you may be suitable.  This also includes no previous surgical interventions.

However, there are some people who are not suitable for this procedure for the following reasons:

  • Have undergone weight loss surgery beforehand or any other form of abdominal surgery.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Have a pacemaker or some other form of implanted electrical device.
  • History of heart disease which includes cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Severe diabetes (or poorly maintained).
  • At high risk of developing a stomach ulcer.
  • Any other serious illness or disease not related to obesity.