Pacemaker stops pain

Many people are familiar with pacemakers for the heart, yet the devices are also used for a variety of health problems.

Pacemakers for pain have been around for decades with limited success, but some patients are finding relief—that is, if they are willing to be awake during part of the surgery.

Neurosurgeon Giancarlo Barolat is a pioneer in using pacemakers to help control chronic pain. He has perfected the science of testing the devices while the patient is awake during surgery.

“They can tell me very precisely where they feel the pain and whether they feel the stimulation,” said Dr. Barolat, of Saint Luke’s Medical Center in Denver.

Kim Lipinski and her daughter Ashlee elected to undergo the breakthrough pacemaker procedure—both suffered from chronic and “debilitating” pain.

Dr. Barolat implanted the pacemakers of Lipinski and Ashlee.

“I did not remember it whatsoever,” said Kim.

An electrode is implanted on the nerves, or spinal cord, in an area strategically designated to relieve the pain. The electricity that passes through the electrode is generated by a pacemaker implanted under the skin. The patient can adjust the electrical impulses with a remote control.

The procedure does not cure pain, but has a 50-to-75-percent chance of providing relief—good
enough for Ashlee and Kim.

"I would say mine is 90 percent success,” said Kim.

Dr. Barolat says the pacemaker for pain can also help people with chronic headaches and back pain who have not responded to conventional treatments.


REPORT: MB #3712
BACKGROUND: Chronic pain is a constant pain that does not go away. If you have been suffering from pain for more than six months, then your pain is defined as chronic. The pain can take a serious toll on a person mentally and physically. Commonly, chronic pain stems from an injury, headache, backache, or joint pain. It can also come from carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and sinus pain. (Source:
OUTCOMES: The emotional roller coaster of living with chronic pain can be difficult to deal with. When a person is continuously in pain, it becomes frustrating to perform daily activities and functions. Some emotional outcomes of living with chronic pain include depression, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and anger. A combination of these negative feelings may increase pain levels and reduce the amount of the body's natural pain killers. The immune system may also be affected from chronic pain due to the emotional strain on the individual. (Source:
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of chronic pain can include:
• Disability
• Weakened immune system
• Changes in mood
• Fatigue
• Withdrawal from activity
• Sleeplessness (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Pacemakers have been used for years, but now they are being used to control chronic pain. Peripheral nerve field stimulation (PNFS) is now providing relief to patients who suffer from chronic pain. Doctors place electrical leads under the skin where the pain is most frequent. The area is then stimulated by a power pack that is implanted. The patients will feel a slight tingle during treatment, which provides relief for surrounding muscles. Ashlee Lipinski has two sets of electrodes (leads) in her spine: one in the cervical spine (neck), to control her pain in the arms, and one in the thoracic spine to control her pain in the legs. All the electrodes are connected to one single pacemaker unit, which is implanted in a pocket under the skin in her buttock area. (Source:

Angie Anania
Media Relations
Presbyterian/Saint Luke's Medical Center
(303) 315-6374

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