The objective of this analysis was to assess the effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of gastric electrical stimulation (GES) for the treatment of chronic, symptomatic refractory gastroparesis and morbid obesity.
Gastroparesis - Epidemiology
Gastroparesis (GP) broadly refers to impaired gastric emptying in the absence of obstruction. Clinically, this can range from the incidental detection of delayed gastric emptying in an asymptomatic person to patients with severe nausea, vomiting and malnutrition. Symptoms of GP are nonspecific and may mimic structural disorders such as ulcer disease, partial gastric or small bowel obstruction, gastric cancer, and pancreaticobiliary disorders.
Gastroparesis may occur in association with diabetes, gastric surgery (consequence of peptic ulcer surgery and vagotomy) or for unknown reasons (idiopathic gastroparesis). Symptoms include early satiety, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and weight loss. The majority of patients with GP are women.
The relationship between upper gastrointestinal symptoms and the rate of gastric emptying is considered to be weak. Some patients with markedly delayed gastric emptying are asymptomatic and sometimes, severe symptoms may remit spontaneously.
Idiopathic GP may represent the most common form of GP. In one tertiary referral retrospective series, the etiologies in 146 GP patients were 36% idiopathic, 29% diabetic, 13% postgastric surgery, 7.5% Parkinson’s disease, 4.8% collagen vascular disorders, 4.1% intestinal pseudoobstruction and 6% miscellaneous causes.
The true prevalence of digestive symptoms in patients with diabetes and the relationship of these symptoms to delayed gastric emptying are unknown. Delayed gastric emptying is present in 27% to 58% of patients with type 1 diabetes and 30% with type 2 diabetes. However, highly variable rates of gastric emptying have been reported in type 1 and 2 diabetes, suggesting that development of GP in patients with diabetes is neither universal nor inevitable. In a review of studies examining gastric emptying in patients with diabetes compared to control patients, investigators noted that in many cases the magnitude of the delay in gastric emptying is modest.
GP may occur as a complication of a number of different surgical procedures. For example, vagal nerve injury may occur in 4% to 40% of patients who undergo laparoscopic fundoplication1 for gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The prevalence of severe, refractory GP is scantily reported in the literature. Using data from a past study, it has been estimated that the prevalence of severe, symptomatic and refractory GP in the United States population is 0.017%. Assuming an Ontario population of 13 million, this would correspond to approximately 2,000 people in Ontario having severe, symptomatic, refractory GP.
The incidence of severe refractory GP estimated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is approximately 4,000 per year in the United States. This corresponds to about 150 patients in Ontario. Using expert opinion and FDA data, the incidence of severe refractory GP in Ontario is estimated to be about 20 to 150 per year.
Treatment for Gastroparesis
To date, there have been no long-term studies confirming the beneficial effects of maintaining euglycemia on GP symptoms. However, it has been suggested that consistent findings of physiologic studies in healthy volunteers and diabetes patients provides an argument to strive for near-normal blood glucose levels in affected diabetes patients.
Dietary measures (e.g., low fibre, low fat food), prokinetic drugs (e.g., domperidone, metoclopramide and erythromycin) and antiemetic or antinausea drugs (e.g, phenothiazines, diphenhydramine) are generally effective for symptomatic relief in the majority of patients with GP.
For patients with chronic, symptomatic GP who are refractory to drug treatment, surgical options may include jejunostomy tube for feeding, gastrotomy tube for stomach decompression and pyloroplasty for gastric emptying.
Few small studies examined the use of botulinum toxin injections into the pyloric sphincter. However, the contribution of excessive pyloric contraction to GP has been insufficiently defined and there have been no controlled studies of this therapy.
Treatment with GES is reversible and may be a less invasive option compared to stomach surgery for the treatment of patients with chronic, drug-refractory nausea and vomiting secondary to GP. In theory, GES represents an intermediate step between treatment directed at the underlying pathophysiology, and the treatment of symptoms. It is based on studies of gastric electrical patterns in GP that have identified the presence of a variety of gastric arrhythmias. Similar to a cardiac pacemaker, it was hypothesized that GES could override the abnormal rhythms, stimulate gastric emptying and eliminate symptoms.
Morbid Obesity Epidemiology
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of at last 30 kg/m2. Morbid obesity is defined as a BMI of at least 40 kg/m2 or at least 35 kg/m2 with comorbid conditions. Comorbid conditions associated with obesity include diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemias, obstructive sleep apnea, weight-related arthropathies, and stress urinary incontinence.
In the United States, the age-adjusted prevalence of extreme obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2) for adults aged 20 years and older has increased significantly in the population, from 2.9% (1988–1994) to 4.7% (1999–2000). An expert estimated that about 160,000 to 180,000 people are morbidly obese in Ontario.
Treatment for Morbid Obesity
Diet, exercise, and behavioural therapy are used to help people lose weight.
Bariatric surgery for morbid obesity is considered an intervention of last resort for patients who have attempted first-line forms of medical management.
Gastric stimulation has been investigated for the treatment of morbid obesity; the intention being to reduce appetite and induce early satiety possibly due to inhibitory effects on gastric motility and effects on the central nervous system (CNS) and hormones related to satiety and/or appetite.
Possible advantages to GES for the treatment of morbid obesity include reversibility of the procedure, less invasiveness than some bariatric procedures, e.g., gastric bypass, and less side effects (e.g., dumping syndrome).
Electrical stimulation is delivered via an implanted system that consists of a neurostimulator and 2 leads. The surgical procedure can be performed via either an open or laparoscopic approach. An external programmer used by the physician can deliver instructions to the GES, i.e., adjust the rate and amplitude of stimulation (Figure 1). GES may be turned off by the physician at any time or may be removed. The battery life is approximately 4-5 years
For treatment of GP, the GES leads are secured in the muscle of the lower stomach, 10 cm proximal to the pylorus (the opening from the stomach to the intestine), 1 cm apart and connected to an implantable battery-powered neurostimulator which is placed in a small pocket in the abdominal wall
For treatment of morbid obesity, GES leads are implanted along the lesser curvature of the stomach where the vagal nerve branches spread, approximately 8 cm proximal to the pylorus. However, the implant positioning of the leads has been variably reported in the literature.
The Enterra Therapy System and the Transcend II Implantable Gastric Stimulation System (Medtronic Inc.) are both licensed as class 3 devices by Health Canada (license numbers 60264 and 66948 respectively). The Health Canada indications for use are:
Enterra Therapy System
“For use in the treatment of chronic intractable (drug-refractory) nausea and vomiting.”
Transcend II Implantable Gastric Stimulation System
“For use in weight reduction for obese adults with a body mass index greater than 35.”
The GES device that is licensed by Health Canada for treatment of GP, produces high-frequency GES. Most clinical studies examining GES for GP have used high-frequency (4 times the intrinsic slow wave frequency, i.e., 12 cycles per minute), low energy, short duration pulses. This type of stimulation does not alter gastric muscular contraction and has no effect on slow wave dysrhythmias. The mechanism of action is unclear but it is hypothesized that high-frequency GES may act on sensory fibers directed to the CNS.
The GES device licensed by Health Canada for treatment of morbid obesity produces low-frequency GES, which is close to or just above the normal/native gastric slow wave cycle (approximately 3 cycles/min.). This pacing uses low-frequency, high-energy, long-duration pulses to induce propagated slow waves that replace the spontaneous ones. Low-frequency pacing does not invoke muscular contractions.
Most studies examining the use of GES for the treatment of morbid obesity use low-frequency GES. Under normal circumstances, the gastric slow wave propagates distally and determines the frequency and propagation direction of gastric peristalsis. Low-frequency GES aims to produce abnormal gastric slow waves that can induce gastric dysrhythmia, disrupt regular propagation of slow waves, cause hypomotility of the stomach, delay gastric emptying, reduce food intake, prolong satiety, and produce weight loss.
In the United States, the Enterra Therapy System is a Humanitarian Use Device (HUD), meaning it is a medical device designated by the FDA for use in the treatment of medical conditions that affect fewer than 4,000 individuals per year.2 The Enterra Therapy System is indicated for “the treatment of chronic, drug- refractory nausea and vomiting secondary to GP of diabetes or idiopathic etiology” (not postsurgical etiologies).
GES for morbid obesity has not been approved by the FDA and is for investigational use only in the United States.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat systematically reviewed the literature to assess the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of GES to treat patients who have: a) chronic refractory symptomatic GP; or b) morbid obesity.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat used its standard search strategy to retrieve international health technology assessments and English-language journal articles from selected databases.
The GRADE approach was used to systematically and explicitly make judgments about the quality of evidence and strength of recommendations.
As stated by the GRADE Working Group, the following definitions were used in grading the quality of the evidence in Tables 1 and 2.
GRADE Quality of Studies – Gastroparesis
Confounders related to diabetes.
Possible Type 2 error for subgroup analyses.
Subjective self-reported end point.
Posthoc change in primary end point analysis.
No sample size justification.
Concomitant prokinetic/antiemetic therapy.
Only 1 RCT (with different results for FDA and publication).
GES originally hypothesized to correct gastric rhythms, stimulate gastric emptying and therefore eliminate symptoms.
Now hypothesized to directly act on neurons to the CNS to control symptoms.
Weak correlation between symptoms and gastric emptying.
Unclear whether gastric emptying is still considered an end point to investigate.
GRADE Quality of Studies – Morbid Obesity
No sample size calculation.
Small sample size.
No ITT analysis.
Lack of detail regarding dropouts.
Possible Type 2 error.
Sparse details about randomization/blinding.
Full, final results not published.
Only 1 RCT (technically grey literature).
No formal economic analysis was identified in the literature search.
The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research reported that the cost of implanting a GES in the United States for the treatment of GP is estimated to be $30,000 US. In Canada, the device costs approximately $10,700 Cdn; this does not include costs associated with the physician’s training, the implantation procedure, or device programming and maintenance.
There is no Schedule of Benefits code for GES.
There is no Canadian Classification of Health Interventions Index (CCI) procedure code for GES.
Since the ICD-10 diagnosis code for gastroparesis falls under K31.8 “Other specified diseases of the stomach and duodenum”, it is impossible to determine how many patients in Ontario had discharge abstracts because of gastroparesis.
In 2005, there were less than 5 out-of-country requests for GES (for either consultation only or for surgery).
The prevalence of severe, refractory GP is variably reported in the literature.
The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research estimated that the prevalence of severe, symptomatic and medically refractory GP in the United States population was 0.017%. Assuming a total Ontario population of 13 million, this would correspond to a budget impact of approximately $23.6 M
Cdn ($10,700 Cdn x 2,210 patients) for the device cost alone.
The incidence of severe refractory GP estimated by the FDA is approximately 4,000 per year in the United States. This corresponds to about 150 patients in Ontario. Using expert opinion and FDA data, the incidence of severe refractory GP in Ontario is estimated to be about 20 to 150 per year. This corresponds to a budget impact of approximately $107,000 Cdn to $1.6M Cdn per year for the device cost alone.
An expert in the field estimated that there are 160,000 to 180,000 people in Ontario who are morbidly obese. This would correspond to a budget impact of approximately $1.7B Cdn to $1.9B Cdn for the device cost alone (assuming 100% uptake). However, the true uptake of GES for morbid obesity is unknown in relation to other types of bariatric surgery (which are more effective).
As per the GRADE Working Group, overall recommendations consider 4 main factors.
The tradeoffs, taking into account the estimated size of the effect for the main outcome, the confidence limits around those estimates and the relative value placed on the outcome.
The quality of the evidence.
Translation of the evidence into practice in a specific setting, taking into consideration important factors that could be expected to modify the size of the expected effects such as proximity to a hospital or availability of necessary expertise.
Uncertainty about the baseline risk for the population of interest.
The GRADE Working Group also recommends that incremental costs of healthcare alternatives should be considered explicitly alongside the expected health benefits and harms. Recommendations rely on judgments about the value of the incremental health benefits in relation to the incremental costs. The last column in Table 3 shows the overall trade-off between benefits and harms and incorporates any risk/uncertainty.
For GP, the overall GRADE and strength of the recommendation is “weak” – the quality of the evidence is “low” (uncertainties due to methodological limitations in the study design in terms of study quality, consistency and directness), and the corresponding risk/uncertainty is increased due to a budget impact of approximately $107,000 Cdn to $1.6M Cdn for the device cost alone, while the cost-effectiveness of GES is unknown and difficult to estimate considering that there are no high-quality studies of effectiveness. Further evidence of effectiveness should be available in the future since there is a RCT underway that is examining the use of GES in patients with severe refractory GP associated with diabetes and idiopathic etiologies (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier NCT00157755).
For morbid obesity, the overall GRADE and strength of the recommendation is “weak” – the quality of the evidence is “low” (uncertainties due to methodological limitations in the study design in terms of study quality and consistency), and the corresponding risk/uncertainty is increased due to a budget impact of approximately $1.7B Cdn to $1.9B Cdn for the device cost alone (assuming 100% uptake) while the cost-effectiveness of GES is unknown and difficult to estimate considering that there are no high quality studies of effectiveness. However, the true uptake of GES for morbid obesity is unknown in relation to other types of bariatric surgery (which are more effective).
Overall GRADE and Strength of Recommendation (Including Uncertainty)