The diaphragm is the body’s most important breathing muscle. It is a sheet of tissue that separates your abdomen from your chest. When you breathe in, your brain sends a signal along the phrenic nerve to your diaphragm. The signal causes the diaphragm muscle to contract and push down into your abdomen. This creates negative pressure in your lungs, which causes air to rush in.
A breathing pacemaker, also known as a diaphragm pacer, is a phrenic nerve stimulator which can help you breathe. It consists of surgically implanted electrodes and receivers and an external transmitter which sends radio signals to the implants.
How Do Breathing Pacemakers Work?
Avery Breathing Pacemakers use small implanted radiofrequency receivers to receive breathing pattern signals across the patient’s intact skin. The implanted electrodes use a single contact design which stimulates the entire phrenic nerve at once.
Avery Breathing Pacemakers can be implanted using a variety of minimally-invasive surgical approaches including cervical and thoracoscopic techniques. For certain patients, the procedures can even be performed on an outpatient basis with local or monitored anesthetic. For others, breathing pacemakers can be used in conjunction with intercostals or spinal accessory nerve grafting to restore diaphragm enervation and allow pacing in patients who otherwise would not be candidates.
Why Choose A Breathing Pacemaker?
Most patients prefer breathing pacemakers over mechanical ventilation for reasons such as normal breathing and speech patterns, ease of eating and drinking, and improved sense of smell. Additionally, transitioning to the pacemaker yields an increase in patient mobility and an overall improvement in quality of life. It also offers a dramatically lower susceptibility to infection when contrasted with mechanical ventilation, which results in a diminished need for both hospital readmission and intensive care.
Am I A Candidate?
Breathing pacemakers are used in both adults and children who would otherwise be dependent on mechanical ventilation. Functioning phrenic nerves and intact diaphragms are necessary for the device to work appropriately. Typical patients have:
- High spinal cord (C1 - C3) or brainstem injuries
- Congenital or acquired central hypoventilation syndromes
- Diaphragm paralysis of various etiologies
Other candidates may include those who require diaphragm conditioning such as patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Our physicians will discuss if breathing pacemakers are right for you.
To learn more, call St. Joseph’s Internal Medicine Department at (602) 406-2323.