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Is there a case for diaphragm pacing for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients?

Respiratory pacing has advanced the long-term management of respiratory failure secondary to neurological disorders. It has an established role in curtailing invasive mechanical ventilation after upper motor neuron lesions such as spinal cord injury. There is increasing interest to expand the application of intramuscular diaphragm pacing to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease. Although diaphragm pacing has been offered to ALS patients, evidence-based data to determine its benefits remain lacking. The limited current literature indicates progression of respiratory dysfunction in ALS patients despite diaphragm pacing. The data from clinical trials are inadequate to substantiate its survival and sleep benefits. Its advantages over non-invasive mechanical ventilation have not been directly investigated. Furthermore, there are cautions for ALS patients to consider when opting for diaphragm pacing. Progressive degeneration of the phrenic motor neurons in classic ALS will interrupt the transmission of pacer signals to sustain diaphragm contractions. Pacing protocols that are safe for other neurological conditions may be detrimental for ALS, at least as suggested by transgenic animal models. Issues inherent to the device warrant expert intervention in implanted patients. At present, clinical effectiveness and long-term safety concerns about diaphragm pacing in ALS remain to be addressed.

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