Diaphragm pacing: the state of the art

Francoise Le Pimpec-Barthes, Antoine Legras, Alex Arame, Ciprian Pricopi, Jean-Claude Boucherie, Alain Badia, Capucine Morelot Panzini
Journal of Thoracic Disease 2016, 8 (Suppl 4): S376-86
Diaphragm pacing (DP) is an orphan surgical procedure that may be proposed in strictly selected ventilator-dependent patients to get an active diaphragm contraction. The goal is to wean from mechanical ventilation (MV) and restore permanent efficient breathing. The two validated indications, despite the lack of randomised control trials, concern patients with high-level spinal cord injuries (SCI) and central hypoventilation syndromes (CHS). To date, two different techniques exist. The first, intrathoracic diaphragm pacing (IT-DP), based on a radiofrequency method, in which the electrodes are directly placed around the phrenic nerve. The second, intraperitoneal diaphragm pacing (IP-DP) uses intradiaphragmatic electrodes implanted through laparoscopy. In both techniques, the phrenic nerves must be intact and diaphragm reconditioning is always required after implantation. No perioperative mortality has been reported and ventilator-weaning rate is about 72% to 96% in both techniques. Improvement of quality of life, by restoring a more physiological breathing, has been almost constant in patients that could be weaned. Failure or delay in recovery of effective diaphragm contractions could be due to irreversible amyotrophy or chest wall damage. Recent works have evaluated the interest of IP-DP in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). After some short series were reported in the literature, the only multicentric randomized study including 74 ALS patients was prematurely stopped because of excessive mortality in paced patients. Then, another trial analysed the place of IP-DP in peripheral diaphragm dysfunction but, given the multiple biases, the published results cannot validate that indication. Reviewing all available literature as in our experience, shows that DP is an effective method to wean selected patients dependent on ventilator and improve their daily life. Other potential indications will have to be evaluated by randomised control trials.

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