Electric Stimulation May Soothe Stomach Woes for Diabetics

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LAS VEGAS—Diabetic patients who suffer from a common complication of diabetes called gastroparesis may find that chronic electrical stimulation (ES) at specific acupuncture points could relieve gastroparesis symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, early satiety, abdominal fullness, upper abdominal pain and bloating, according to the study, “Chronic Electrical Stimulation at Acupuncture Points Improves Dyspeptic Symptoms."

The study used a watch-sized digital microstimulator that was specially developed for this project to assess the effects of ongoing electrical stimulation at acupuncture points on gastroparesis symptoms in diabetic patients with refractory gastroparesis. Despite medical therapy, these patients have not found relief for their symptoms and experience frequent physician and emergency room visits or hospitalizations because often they are unable to eat or keep food down and maintain proper nutrition, according to lead investigator Jiande Chen, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch.

“These are very severe symptoms and could be life-threatening as the treatment options for these patients are very limited and there are no effective medications," said Dr. Chen. Chen added that the device looks and works like the microstimualtors used to alleviate motion sickness that are already on the market.

Diabetes is a lifelong disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. High blood glucose causes chemical changes in nerves and damages the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. Gastroparesis is a type of nerve damage affecting the vagus nerve which controls the movement of food through the digestive tract. Ten to fifteen percent of the 25.8 million Americans living with diabetes have gastroparesis. This condition can worsen diabetes by making it more difficult to manage blood glucose levels because a delay in gastric emptying can cause a spike in glucose levels when the food finally enters the small intestine, according to the American Diabetes Association.

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