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Summary

Background  Application of electrical stimulation to the gut, primarily the stomach, has rapidly advanced in the last two decades, from mostly animal studies to the clinical arena. Most studies focused on the use of electrical stimulation for gastroparesis, the only approved indication for such intervention.

Aim  To review the physiological basis of gastric electrical activity and the technical aspects and clinical outcome of gastric electrical stimulation (GES) for gastroparesis.

Methods  PubMed search from 1966 to 2009, using gastroparesis and GES as search terms. Areas in focus were systematically reviewed.

Results  The literature consists of open-label studies, mostly from single centres, published in the last decade. Improvement in symptoms, quality of life and nutritional status was reported by most studies. Physiologically, stimulation parameters approved in clinical practice do not regulate gastric slow wave activity and have inconsistent effect on gastric emptying. The mechanism of action of GES is not fully known, but data support modulation of gastric biomechanical activity and afferent neural mechanisms.

Conclusions  Gastric electrical stimulation is a helpful intervention in recalcitrant gastroparesis. Controlled studies and better understanding of mechanisms of action of electrical stimulation are needed to evaluate further the clinical utility of this intervention and to exploit its therapeutic potential better.