Spinal Cord Stimulators Can Cause Deaths & Injuries


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Washington Post Reports .

Injuries & Deaths from.

Spinal Cord Stimulators

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Excerpts below are from the November 25 report linked above on spinal cord stimulators. Use search function top left for prior several posts on this site:

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…one of the fastest-growing products in the $400 billion medical device industry. Companies and doctors aggressively push them as a safe antidote to the deadly opioid crisis in the U.S. and as a treatment for an aging population in need of chronic pain relief.

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But the stimulators — devices that use electrical currents to block pain signals before they reach the brain — are more dangerous than many patients know, an Associated Press investigation found. They account for the third-highest number of medical device injury reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with more than 80,000 incidents flagged since 2008.

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Patients report that they have been shocked or burned or have suffered spinal-cord nerve damage ranging from muscle weakness to paraplegia, FDA data shows. Among the 4,000 types of devices tracked by the FDA, only metal hip replacements and insulin pumps have logged more injury reports.

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The FDA data contains more than 500 reports of people with spinal-cord stimulators who died, but details are scant, making it difficult to determine if the deaths were related to the stimulator or implant surgery.

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Medical device manufacturers insist spinal-cord stimulators are safe — some 60,000 are implanted annually — and doctors who specialize in these surgeries say they have helped reduce pain for many of their patients.

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Most of these devices have been approved by the FDA with little clinical testing, however, and the agency’s data shows that spinal-cord stimulators have a disproportionately higher number of injuries compared to hip implants, which are far more plentiful.

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The AP reported on spinal stimulators as part of a nearly yearlong joint investigation of the global medical devices industry that included NBC, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 50 other media partners around the world. Reporters collected and analyzed millions of medical records, recall notices and other product safety warnings, in addition to interviewing doctors, patients, researchers and company whistleblowers.

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The media partners found that, across all types of medical devices, more than 1.7 million injuries and nearly 83,000 deaths were reported to the FDA over the last decade.

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The investigation also found that the FDA — considered by other countries to be the gold standard in medical device oversight — puts people at risk by pushing devices through an abbreviated approval process, then responds slowly when it comes to forcing companies to correct sometimes life-threatening products.

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Devices are rarely pulled from the market, even when major problems emerge. And the FDA does not disclose how many devices are implanted in the U.S. each year — critical information that could be used to calculate success and failure rates….

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…The four biggest makers of spinal-cord stimulators are Boston Scientific Corp., based in Marlborough, Massachusetts; Medtronic, with headquarters in Ireland and the U.S.; Nevro, in Redwood City, California; and Illinois-based Abbott, which entered the market after its $23.6 billion purchase of St Jude Medical Inc.

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St. Jude’s application to go to market with its first spinal stimulator contained no original patient data and was based on clinical results from other studies, while Boston Scientific’s application for its Precision spinal-cord stimulator was based largely on older data, though it did include a small, original study of 26 patients who were tracked for as little as two weeks.

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Once approved, medical device companies can use countless supplementary requests to alter their products, even when the changes are substantial.

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For example, there have been only six new spinal-cord stimulator devices approved since 1984, with 835 supplemental changes to those devices given the go-ahead through the middle of this year, the AP found. Medtronic alone has been granted 394 supplemental changes to its stimulator since 1984, covering everything from altering the sterilization process to updating the design.

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“It’s kind of the story of FDA’s regulation of devices, where they’re just putting stuff on the market,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, who has studied medical devices for nearly 30 years.

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….“These patients are guinea pigs,” she said.

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….Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz, director at the neurological disorders and stroke division at the National Institutes of Health, said trials for medical devices like spinal-cord stimulators are generally small and industry-sponsored, with a “substantial” placebo effect.

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“I don’t know of anyone who is happy with spinal-cord technology as it stands,” Koroshetz said. “I think everybody thinks it can be better.”

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….[Jim] Taft’s stimulator failed soon after it was surgically implanted. After an operation to repair it, he said, the device shocked him so many times that he couldn’t sleep and even fell down a flight of stairs. Today, the 45-year-old Taft is virtually paralyzed, a prisoner in his own bed, barely able to get to the bathroom by himself…..

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Taft said his three-day trial helped reduce his pain so, a few days before his surgery, he began preparing for a new life. He ordered lumber to refurbish a patio and deck for his wife, Renee, as thanks for her years of support.

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In April 2014, Boston Scientific’s Precision stimulator was implanted in Taft by Jason Highsmith, a Charleston, South Carolina, neurosurgeon who has received $181,000 from the company over the past five years in the form of consulting fees and payments for travel and entertainment. A Boston Scientific sales representative was in the operating room — a common practice, the AP found.

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Highsmith would not comment on the payments. Other doctors have defended the practice, saying they do important work that helps the companies — and ultimately patients — and deserve to be compensated for their time.

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From the time Taft was cut open and the device placed inside his body, he had nothing but problems, according to hundreds of pages of medical records reviewed by the AP. The device began randomly shocking him, and the battery burned his skin.

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Taft and his wife complained repeatedly, but said his doctors and a Boston Scientific representative told them that spinal-cord stimulators don’t cause the kind of problems he had.

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That runs counter to Boston Scientific’s own literature, which acknowledges that spinal stimulators and the procedures to implant them carry risks, such as the leads moving, overstimulation, paralysis and infections.

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That also is not reflected in the AP’s analysis of FDA injury reports, which found shocking and burning had been reported for all major models of spinal-cord stimulators. For Boston Scientific devices, infection was the most common complaint over the past decade, mentioned in more than 4,000 injury reports.

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In response to questions, the company called infection “unfortunately a risk in any surgical procedure” that the company works hard to avoid. It added that the FDA’s data “shouldn’t be interpreted as a causal sign of a challenge with our device. In fact, many examples of reportable infections include those that were caused by the surgical procedure or post-operative care.”

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“In our internal quality assessments, over 95 percent of the injury reports were temporary or reversible in nature,” the company added.

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Taft said had he known the devices hurt so many people, he would have reconsidered getting one. A Boston Scientific sales representative tried reprogramming the device, he said, but nothing worked.

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“I told them that it feels like the lead is moving up and down my spine,” Taft said. “They said, ‘It can’t move.’” But in July 2014, X-rays revealed the lead indeed had moved — two inches on one side.

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Highsmith told the AP the electrode broke from “vigorous activity,” though Taft said that would not have been possible due to his condition. Taft said he was in such bad shape after his surgery that he was never able to redo the patio and deck for his wife or do anything else vigorous.

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That October, Highsmith said, he operated on Taft to install a new lead, tested the battery and reinserted it.

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Still, Taft’s medical records show that he continued to report numbness, tingling and pain. During a January 2015 appointment, a physician assistant wrote that the device “seemed to make his pain worse.”

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The stimulator was surgically removed in August 2015. The following June, Taft got a second opinion from a clinic that specializes in spinal injuries, which said he had “significant axial and low back pain due to implantation and explantation” of the stimulator.

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Highsmith said other doctors have documented severe arthritis in Taft and that, while he has not examined Taft in more than three years, it’s “likely his current condition is the result of disease progression and other factors.”

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He did not answer questions about whether he informed Taft of the risks associated with stimulators.

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The doctor said the overwhelming majority of his spinal-cord stimulator patients gain significant pain relief.

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“Unfortunately, in spite of the major medical breakthroughs with devices like these, some patients still suffer from intractable pain,” he said.

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Renee Taft, a paralegal, reached out to Boston Scientific in 2017, but said the company refused to help because her husband’s stimulator had been removed and blamed Taft for his problems, also saying he had engaged in “rigorous physical activity” after surgery.

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In the letter from the company’s legal department, Boston Scientific also noted that federal law shielded manufacturers from personal liability claims involving medical devices approved by the FDA.

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In response to questions from the AP, Boston Scientific again blamed Taft’s “activity level” but didn’t elaborate. The company also said other factors could contribute to his problems such as “hyperalgesia, a phenomenon associated with long-term opioid use which results in patients becoming increasingly sensitive to some stimuli.”

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Brenda Simpson-Davis of Milton, Florida, said Boston Scientific also disregarded her complaints after her husband suffered a life-threatening infection following implant surgery.

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George Davis, 57, had three Medtronic spinal-cord implants between 2003 and 2007 after a car accident mangled his back. They temporarily reduced some of his pain, but he said the non-rechargeable batteries that were supposed to last for years never did and he tired of multiple surgical removals.

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In 2015, his pain management doctor urged him to try Boston Scientific’s Precision Spectra, which he called the best on the market. Unlike Davis’s old models, it had a rechargeable battery.

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Within weeks of his surgery, Davis said, he started feeling pain shooting down his back and legs and a burning sensation at the implant site. After his skin started turning black, the doctor performed emergency surgery to remove the device.

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Months later, Davis reluctantly agreed when his doctor urged him to try another Boston Scientific model but found that device even worse.

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Over the next year, he spent more than 100 days in and out of hospitals battling a life-threatening infection. Today, Davis says he has trouble getting out of bed.

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Boston Scientific said it never received the stimulators that were implanted in Taft and Davis so could not “conclusively identify” the causes of their problems. “Numerous factors can contribute to a patient’s ongoing symptoms, from increased physical activity to the onset of pain in other areas,” the company said.

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Simpson-Davis said she spoke with attorneys around the country, who warned her about the high bar set for a lawsuit . Finally, she found a Texas lawyer who said he will consider taking the case if she can find another two dozen potential plaintiffs.

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“To me, it’s not about the money, It’s about the people. It’s about them knowing what they’re getting themselves into,” she said.

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For years, Valerie McJunkin had been seeking relief from a rare neurological disorder that made her legs and feet feel like they were on fire. So when a medical device company sales representative and her West Virginia pain management doctor recommended what sounded to her like a “miracle device,” she was all in.

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They said a new kind of stimulator — one that targeted a bundle of sensory nerve cells in the lower back — was better than a spinal-cord device. She just needed to undergo a weeklong trial.

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When McJunkin showed up at the pain clinic this January for the trial, the Abbott sales representative was there, along with her doctor and his staff. They explained every detail. This device wasn’t for everyone, but she was the perfect candidate, she recalled them saying.

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Over the next week, they called or texted her nearly every day to see if the stimulator was easing her torment. And since the trial did seem to help, she went ahead with the implant.

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Within days, though, the device began randomly shocking her — a sharp pain that felt like a lightning bolt.

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When McJunkin called her doctor and the Abbott representative, she said they suggested that she was at fault because “stimulators don’t do that.” It wasn’t until she received a certified letter from Abbott in March that she learned it wasn’t all in her head: The company said her device was being recalled due to a glitch that could cause patients some “discomfort.”

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Since 2005, there have been 50 recalls involving spinal stimulators, averaging about four per year in the last five years. Roughly half the recalls involved stimulators made by Medtronic, the world’s largest device manufacturer, though none warned of a risk of serious injury or death.

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In early September, McJunkin invited an AP reporter to accompany her when she met with her doctor and the company sales representative to request the device be removed.

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The Abbott salesman and her doctor both suggested she get another stimulator, saying she had run out of options, especially since her doctor couldn’t write prescriptions for opioids because of a government crackdown. If she didn’t get another stimulator, he said, she faced a lifetime of pain. He did not suggest other options, such as steroid shots or continued physical therapy.

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“I’m not trying to force your mind,” the doctor said. “But for me, would I want to live my life like this?… If I get that new battery and it totally helps, that changes my life 180 degrees, right? But if I don’t I already know what’s going to happen to me: I’ll be suffering for the rest of my life.”

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On the drive home to Martinsburg, West Virginia, McJunkin gripped the steering wheel of her car, her tattoo reading “persevere” visible on her forearm.

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“You trust your doctor. You think he’s going to do the right thing,” she said. She paused, fighting back tears. “I just wanted to live without pain. But now that hope is gone.”

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In late October, her doctor removed the device.

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The experience of nearly all the 40 patients interviewed by the AP mirrored McJunkin’s: Their pain was reduced during the trial but returned once their stimulators were implanted.

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Experts say the answer may be a placebo effect created when expectations are built up during the trial that only the stimulator can offer relief from pain, exacerbated by patients not wanting to disappoint family members, who often have been serving as their caregivers.

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“If patients know this is a last resort, a last hope, of course they will respond well,” said Dr. Michael Gofeld, a Toronto-based anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who has studied and implanted spinal-cord stimulators in both the U.S. and Canada.

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By the time the trial ends, the patient is “flying high, the endorphin levels are high,” Gofeld said.

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Manufacturer representatives are heavily involved during the entire process. Along with often being in the operating room during surgery in case the physician has questions, they meet with patients to program the devices in the weeks following surgery.

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Most of the patients interviewed by the AP said the adjustments to their devices were performed by sales representatives, often with no doctor or nurse present. That includes one patient who was billed for programming as if the doctor was in the room, though he was not.

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“People who are selling the device should not be in charge of maintenance,” Gofeld said. “It’s totally unethical.”

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In a 2015 Texas case, a former Medtronic sales representative filed suit contending she was fired after complaining that the company trained employees to program neurostimulators without physicians present. She also claimed that a Medtronic supervisor snatched surgical gloves away from her when she refused to bandage a patient during a procedure, pushed her aside and then cleaned and dressed the patient’s wound. Medtronic denied the allegations, and the case was settled on undisclosed terms.

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In the Justice Department case involving Medtronic, a salesman who said he earned as much as $600,000 a year selling spinal-cord stimulators claimed sales representatives encouraged physicians to perform unnecessary procedures that drove up the costs for Medicare and other federal health programs.

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“While there have been a few instances where individuals or affiliates did not comply with Medtronic’s policies, we acted to remedy the situation in each case once discovered and to correct any misconduct,” the company said.

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Gofeld said he believes stimulators do work, but that many of the problems usually arise when doctors don’t choose appropriate candidates. And he thinks the stimulators are used too often in the U.S.

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Nevro, one of the four big manufacturers, has cited estimates that there are as many as 4,400 facilities in the U.S where spinal-stimulation devices are implanted by a variety of physicians, including neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and pain specialists.

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It’s a lucrative business . Analysts say stimulators and the surgery to implant them costs between $32,000 and $50,000, with the device itself constituting $20,000 to $25,000 of that amount. If surgery is performed in a hospital, the patient usually stays overnight, and the hospital charges a facility fee for obtaining the device. Costs are typically covered by insurance.

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The AP found that doctors can make more money if they perform the surgery at physician-owned outpatient surgery centers, since the doctor buys the device, marks it up and adds on the facility fee.

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In Canada, where Gofeld now works, he said the surgeries are done only by those who specialize in the procedures. He said spinal-cord stimulators should be used when pain starts and not after failed back surgeries.

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“By then,” he said, “it’s too late.”

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While manufacturers and top FDA officials tout stimulators as a weapon in the battle against opioids, neurosurgeons like Steven Falowski are the front-line evangelists.

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“Chronic pain is one of the largest health-care burdens we have in the U.S. It’s more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined,” Falowski said in an interview.

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He referred AP to Corby, as one of his surgical patients who was helped by a spinal-cord stimulator.

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Corby got the device more than two years ago and says that, after some initial adjustments, he hasn’t had any further problems. He says he wouldn’t trade the stimulator for opioids.

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“I was actually buying them on the street … a little like a druggie because I couldn’t get them anymore” from his pain doctor, Corby said.

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Falowski said opioids are good for acute pain, but were never meant to treat long-term chronic pain. For him, that’s where spinal-cord stimulators come in.

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If they’re used early enough for pain, they can prevent people from going on opium-based pain killers, said Falowski, who speaks at neuromodulation conferences and teaches other doctors how to implant stimulators.

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Since 2013, device manufacturers have paid Falowski — or St. Luke’s University Health Network in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania, where he works — nearly $863,000, including $611,000 from St. Jude or its new parent company, Abbott, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services database. The payments range from consulting fees to travel and entertainment expenses.

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.….Another of Falowski’s patients was Lisa Snyder of Kempton, Pennsylvania, who was searching for relief from a painful nerve disorder. By the time she came to Falowski, she had cycled through three spinal-cord stimulators, which were removed for reasons ranging from infection to rejection.

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“Not everybody could do it, but he was confident he could,” she said.

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After her fourth implant this March, “I complained about this battery right away. I knew it was positioned funny. It burned,” Snyder said.

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AP’s analysis showed Abbott products were more likely than other major models to include reports of a hot or burning sensation near the site of the battery, with about 5,600 injury reports since 2008 referring to the words “heat” or “burn.”

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Abbott said that many of the “adverse events” reports in the FDA’s data stemmed from a device that was voluntarily recalled in 2011. The company added that feeling a temperature increase at the implant site “is often a reality for rechargeable spinal-cord stimulation systems,” which is why the company is now concentrating on devices that do not need to be recharged.

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….Snyder said she felt like Falowski’s nurse and physician assistant downplayed the problems and that the reprogramming of her device was conducted by the Abbott sales representative, with no medical staff present. On at least one occasion, she was charged as if the medical staff was there, when she said they weren’t, according to insurance bills reviewed by the AP.

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.Despite insisting nothing was wrong with the unit, Snyder said, Falowski called her one day out of the blue. “He said ‘Under no circumstances are you to turn it on.’ I asked him why and he wouldn’t say,” Snyder recalled..Falowski then scheduled immediate surgery to remove the stimulator, she said..Falowski called Snyder a difficult patient and said she was receiving “100 percent pain relief” when she had the stimulator removed, adding that she “remained very appreciative of her care.” He added that programming is “performed under the direction of a physician.”.“The physician is not present during the entire programming session, but provides oversight and direction..

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…The only time programming sessions are billed is when the physician is actively seeing the patient during a visit which was the case with this patient,” he said..

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.All Snyder ever wanted was to feel better. Today, she often is immobilized by pain..Before the latest stimulator, she could walk, stand and cook meals. Now, she finds it hard to get out of bed and rarely leaves her house. She says the device has ruined her life....

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“My fear is I’ll be like this forever,” she said...

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Comments are welcome.

This site is not for email, not for medical questions, and not for appointments.

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For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Please IGNORE THE ADS BELOW. They are not from me.

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Spinal Cord Stimulators – Shortcomings of Evidence


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Shortcomings of Evidence for

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Spinal Cord Stimulators

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The journal Practical Pain Management has published a presentation of spinal cord stimulators, SCS’s, made at the International Association for Study of Pain, IASP, World Congress. This adds greatly to my concern that they not be trialed for those who have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS. About 8,000 visits per year on my website, double any other topic on pain, are about the damage these devices have inflicted, and the comments are gruesome. See search function, top left above small photo.

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John Markman, MD, recounts what’s currently on the table for SCS and how much more is needed for adequate pain relief. A 2018 IASP World Congress on Pain highlight.”

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“In a presentation titled “Yes, We Now Have the Evidence, But..,.” John Markman, MD, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, outlined some shortcomings of the existing evidence for spinal cord stimulation (SCS) including heterogeneous populations studies.Dr. Markman’s main concern with SCS is the level of uncertainty he has with the procedure—how it works, whom it works for, and the non-specific treatment effects of the procedure. To rectify this, he has begun to conduct crossover studies in his practice to get a better grasp of these questions. “Imagine if, in 2018, the indication for putting in a spinal cord stimulation system were as matched to mechanism as a cardiac pacemaker,” Dr. Markman posed the audience, noting that SCS implementation remains heavily dependent on self-reporting.”

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…snip…

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“Existing Evidence”

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“SCS technology is still evolving, Dr. Markman said. While self-reporting is still prevalent, what has changed in the past five decades is the upgrade from a single case report to prospective, multinational, randomized clinical trials. One landmark trial, for instance, randomized 100 failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) patients with predominant leg pain of neuropathic radicular origin to receive SCS plus conventional medical management (the SCS group) or conventional medical management alone (the CMM group) for at least 6 months.Compared with the CMM group, the SCS group experienced improved leg and back pain relief, quality of life, and functional capacity, as well as greater treatment satisfaction. Between 6 and 12 months, five SCS patients switched to CMM, and 32 CMM patients switched to SCS. At 12 months, 27 SCS patients (32%) had experienced device-related complications. In selected patients with FBSS, SCS provided better pain relief and improved health-related quality of life and functional capacity compared with CMM alone.”

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“Other significant trials for SCS include North, et al, from 2005,3 and Kemler, et al, from 2008.4 “This is an era marked by open-label studies,” Dr. Markman said. Enormous technical innovation, improvement of clinical trial designs, and larger study populations (prospective, head-to-head), are just some of the factors leading these recent advancements.”

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“Evidence Still Needed”

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“Despite the success in recent years of more trials being applied to SCS, many questions have yet to be addressed. For instance, the totality of study participants to date is only 973, a study population that is “poorly characterized,” according to Dr. Markman. “Chronic pain after spine surgery, that’s an iatrogenic injury, and it’s a very heterogeneous group of patients, some of who have axial-predominant neuropathic pain.” In one study,5 of 97 subjects who completed a trial of HF10 therapy, 90 (92.8%) had significant back pain relief and were eligible for an implant of an SCS system. In comparison, 81 of 92 subjects (88.0%) were successfully trialed with traditional SCS (P = 0.33). “Which is incredibly high in my opinion. Think about in your own practice how many times you’ve tried someone on a therapy for a heterogeneous pain problem, some of which is nociceptive, some of which is neuropathic…and 92% of them get relief? It just doesn’t reflect anything in my practice,” Dr. Markman said.”

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“In addition to this, the lack of blinding in trials, as well as the lack of controls, makes the results weaker by design. External challenges include the regulatory framework for devices being much less rigorous for analgesic drugs, for example. Study sponsorship has also been an issue, as many current studies that are industry-sponsored have a clear publication bias compared to payor studies that are normally negative in nature, Dr. Markman suggested.”

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“Devices are also constantly changing. “It’s a moving target,” he said. “It’s like comparing your phone in 1967 to your phone today. It’s not really a great comparison.” A generation of studies now has emerged that has made comparisons to figure out what the on-target analgesic actions are and what non-specific treatment effects have been seen. “The disruption in technology is changing the stakeholders and how they engage,” Dr. Markman said. He concluded by noting that, due to an impact-style meeting having an enormous accelerant effect on deciding the “rules of the road” for oral analgesic trials, a group is now meeting with representatives from the International Neuromodulation Society and the North American Neuromodulation Society to develop consensus guidelines for spinal cord stimulation.”

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Comments are welcome.

This site is not for email, not for medical questions, and not for appointments.

~~~~~

For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Please IGNORE THE ADS BELOW. They are not from me.

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Spinal Cord Stimulation, Current Status 2017


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One of the top read articles in 2017 from the journal Pain (free pdf).

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Click title below:

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Current status and future perspectives of spinal cord stimulation in treatment of chronic pain

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Geurts, José W.a,*; Joosten, Elbert A.a,b; van Kleef, Maartena

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3. Complications and side effects

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“Complications and side effects (adverse events) acquiring reinterventions often occur during treatment with SCS.6,8,16,20,37 Complications include deep and superficial infections or equipment-related side effects like hardware malfunction, lead migration, fractured electrode, pulse generator discomfort, and battery replacements. Localized pain over the implanted hardware occurs regularly, on average in 6% of cases.6 This pain, for instance, can present as pain around the implanted pulse generator or over the lead. Such pain typically leads to replacement of the lead and therefore an additional surgery. Removal of the SCS system may be necessary in cases of deep infection or treatment failure. A prospective study performed over 12 years8 showed adverse events in 61% of patients. However, the complication rate was significantly reduced during the last 4 years of the study from an annual mean of 30% to 22%. The authors concluded that this was likely due to technological developments and improvements in the SCS hardware. Another explanation for this reduction is that the physicians treating patients gradually gain experience in a particular implant technique.22 New implantation techniques like DRG-STIM have been reported to cause more complications and it has been concluded that refinement and optimization of the technique are needed to minimize adverse events.22

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5. Future perspectives of spinal cord stimulation

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….”A point of concern is that, at present, cost-effectiveness of SCS is impeded by the high cost of the device and the high incidence of complications and side effects requiring reintervention and surgery. Consequently, SCS treatment is not accessible for everyone in the world and up to now is only available for selected indications.”….

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Among problems from spinal cord stimulators that I have seen in those with CRPS, the procedure has created a new pain that is now #1 most severe, often at the battery pack that is placed at the low back. Several patients reported units were explanted with difficulty due to severe scar formation.   

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Reference

[8]: Geurts JW, Smits H, Kemler MA, Brunner F, Kessels AG, van Kleef M.

Spinal cord stimulation for complex regional pain syndrome type I: a prospective cohort study with long-term follow-up.

Neuromodulation 2013;16:523–9; discussion 529.

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Objectives: Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an effective treatment for intractable complex regional pain syndrome type I pain. Long-term data are scarce on effectiveness, degree of pain relief, predictors, and complications.

Materials and methods: From 1997 to 2008, 84 consecutive patients who received an implanted SCS system after positive test stimulation were included in the prospective study. Treatment effectiveness was assessed annually as measured by mean visual analog scale pain scores and with the Patients Global Impression of Change scale. Treatment success was defined as at least 30% mean pain relief at end point and treatment failure as explantation of the system. A Cox regression determined if baseline factors were associated with both these outcomes.

Results: During 11 years, 41% (95% CI: 27-55) of the patients experience at least 30% pain relief at assessment end point. During 12 years of follow-up 63% (95%CI: 41-85) of the implanted patients still use their SCS device at measured end point. Pain relief of at least 50% one week following test stimulation is associated with a higher probability of long-term treatment success. In 51 patients, 122 reinterventions were performed over 12 years; 13 were due to complications, 44 to battery changes, and 65 reinterventions were equipment related.

Conclusion: SCS provides an effective long-term pain treatment for 63% (95%CI: 41-85) of implanted patients. Forty-one percent (95%CI: 27-55) of SCS treated patients have at least 30% pain reduction at measurement end point. The number of reinterventions after implantation due to equipment-related problems, battery changes, and complications is 122 over 12 years of follow-up. Sixty-one percent (N = 51) of the patients had at least one reintervention. Mean pain relief of at least 50% (visual analog scale) one week after the test stimulation is associated with long-term treatment success.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

~~

Comments are welcome.

This site is not for email, not for medical questions, and not for appointments.

~~~~~

For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Please IGNORE THE ADS BELOW. They are not from me.

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Spinal Cord Stimulators – Paralysis, Adverse Effects


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In April 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of adverse events associated with spinal cord stimulators:

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When Spine Implants Cause Paralysis, Who Is to Blame?

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These events were submitted to the FDA or were obtained from medical malpractice law suits. “In many cases, the injuries occurred after patients’ spinal cords were punctured or compressed by the stimulator electrodes….The FDA’s database contains 58 unique reports of paralysis with report or event dates from 2013, compared with 48 in the prior year.” The spinal cord stimulators were made by various companies.

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“Researchers at Duke University medical center recently found that nearly one in every 100 spinal stimulator patients experienced some degree of spinal cord or spinal nerve root damage, said Shivanand P. Lad, a Duke Neurosurgeon and the study’s lead researcher. The study, based on insurance claim records of 12,300 stimulator patients has been submitted for presentation at an upcoming medical meeting.”

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“A 2011 study based on adverse event reports submitted by device makers found the rate of paralysis or motor weakness in patients implanted with a commonly used type of stimulator was considerably lower, at around 3.8 per 1000, with about 60% of patients eventually experiencing complete or partial recovery.”

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Medtronic updated its product label in February to note “that scar tissue can form around device electrodes and cause nerve damage, including progressive quadriparesis, or gradual weakening of all four limbs.”

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“Medtronic estimates that as many as 50,000 people in the U.S. are implanted with spinal stimulators each year from all device makers.”

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“Stimulators cost between $20,000 and $60,000 each and have estimated global sales of $1.5 billion annually….”

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The FDA “cautions that the agency’s database cannot be used to ascertain comprehensive rates of adverse events because the events are under reported [my emphasis] and often contain incomplete or incorrect information.”

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The article describes a man with 40 years of back pain who had a spinal cord stimulator implanted at the University of Texas Southwestern Hospital, Dallas. He complained of numbness in his legs. A blood clot was removed on an urgent basis, but damage was irreversible. He was paralyzed from the waist down and left in a wheelchair.

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Spinal cord stimulators, abbreviated SCS, can cause many more problems that paralysis. They can cause pain, tethering of the cord, scarring of the battery pack that can slide across the back, infection that may cause death, and many other complications. Electrodes may not always be able to be removed and remain permanently scarred into the cord. Deeply troubling is that an MRI can never be done again even if the patient has cancer or stroke —none of my patients remember being told about this. Where are the five year studies that show benefit? Even with no complications, how long do they continue to relieve pain? Electrodes move and/or they malfunction. There is little to no federal investment in medications that relieve pain, but these devices are garnering sales of $1.5 billion annually without showing lasting benefit. This is a very big source or income for pain specialists, but what is the gain for patients? How can we weight the pros and cons of this money generating device?

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So many of my patients that have failed the small handful of medications now available for chronic pain were given only one choice by every major pain center: spinal cord stimulator. One choice. This is a very big business but where is the five year data?

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One of my patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, in remission since 2010, submitted a comment on this my site:

 

06/07/2012 at 11:25 pm   I have been a surgical nurse for 40 years and have seen many patients receive SCS…and many, many fail, or return to surgery for fractured electrode wires, misplaced wires, or infected battery pockets, besides complicated problems, or “lack of positive results, or battery revisions, or electrode repositionings.” Some patients have even developed spinal fluid leaks when the spinal dura layer has been torn during implanting the electrode wires, and they develop severe headaches, and have to return to surgery for the leak to be repaired. Many pain management doctors are convincing patients that this is a great way to treat their pain, and they find out in 2-6 months that they wish they never had agreed to it. Sure, there are some patients that get some relief, but this procedure has been pushed on the population of chronic pain patients, when they are at their worse condition, and willing to try anything….at any expense, and the companies and implanting doctors are getting the money. More patients need to learn the truth about these devices! Anonymous…. and never allowed them to put one of those things in me…but many tried!

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Elsewhere on my site, Traci writes a very sad comment:

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03/29/2011 at 6:01 am I posted on your main blog, but haven’t heard back. I know you wanted information regarding issues or problems with Spinal Cord Stimulators, so here is some information that you can add to your file. I can also be contacted for additional information because this issue continue to date.

In one of your posts you asked for input from patients that currently have a SCS. I currently have a Medtronic SCS it was implanted early 2010 and I ended up having swelling in my Lt (affected) foot/ankle every time I would charge the “re-chargeable battery”. No one at Medtronic could figure out the issue. I turned into their “human lab rat”. After several months of this I was told to switch from a rechargeable battery to a non-rechargeable batter. Thus another operation… which I did. After this surgery (I have a paddle with 16 electrodes) all 8 electrodes on the Lt side that used to supply stimulation to my Lt foot/ankle now hit my pelvic area – thus I can no longer utilize these electrodes. And out of the 8 electrodes on the Rt 2 are providing stimulation to my Lt foot and the other 6 are hitting the wrong areas. In addition to this I have had continual instances where I am getting a very sharp pain/ sharp twinge (like a jolt) around where the electrodes area. When this happens if I turn off the SCS the pain immediately stops. I’ve been on a conference call with a Senior Engineer of Medtronic and a local Rep in person with me to do reprogramming… The Engineer only wanted to know if the electrodes were putting out stimulation. He didn’t want to know what the amperage was at before I could feel it or in what part of the body the stimulation was felt. These should have been critical pieces of information. All he wanted to state was that the electrodes were working. As for the Sharp Pain / Sharp Twinges that continue to occur in the electrode area their Senior Engineer has no idea what is causing this. He asked me to run an experiment the next time it happened – I did exactly what he wanted and reported back the findings. I have yet to hear back from Medtronic. They do not want to back up their product and they are not willing to admit that their is a problem. Although I have 2 doctors including a Neurosurgeon that feel there is some type of fault in their product or that it is faulty. Hopefully this gives you some additional information you were seeking. Please feel free to email me if you would like to discuss further. I am continuing my uphill battle with Medtronic.

I have spoke with Medtronic as recently as yesterday and they can not explain the continual sharp pain/sharp twinge that I continue to get where the paddle that holds the electrodes is placed. The “Patient Relations Rep” that has been assigned to me, (at one point she tried to tell me she was from their “Legal Department” and she was later introduced by a team member as a “Patient Relations Representative”), doesn’t feel this is a big issue. She told me yesterday that this is “just medicine” and sometime they can get it right and other times it just doesn’t work out… The Senior Engineer at their company can not figure out what the problem is, so he just wants to reset the “INS”. I asked exactly what the “INS” was and the Patient Relations Rep couldn’t answer that question. I have already had my system reset numerous times (too many to count) and reprogrammed numerous times.

The trial was aproximately $25,000; the hospital expenses alone and cost for the SCS implant were over $150,000 and the secondary surgery to replace the rechargeable battery with a non-rechargeable battery was aproximately $53,000. This is all for a system the now has 2 out of 16 electrodes that hit the correct area, creates an intermitent sharp pain/sharp twinge in the spinal area where the electrodes/paddle is placed, and they aren’t sure how to resolve this issue. But I was told yesterday that their system was working properly by their rep.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice,

diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Please understand that it is not legal for me

to give medical advice without a consultation.

If you wish an appointment, please telephone my office.

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For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Ketamine IV vs Nasal Spray or Sublingual


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Patients ask me to compare IV ketamine to other routes of administration such as intranasal or sublingual. No one has done comparisons. Even if they had, every person is different and may have several pain syndromes.

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I have outlined one case below. One disadvantage of IV ketamine is the cost and the need to schedule for an IV treatment with your physician often weeks in advance. For some, this may mean setting aside two weeks to travel and make other arrangements. The alternative is carrying this low cost medication in your pocket and using as needed to relieve pain when you have pain, or to prevent pain when you know your activity will flare it.

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Ketamine is an important medication for pain.  It is considered a third line choice for pain relief, but it is almost a first line choice for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS  – the old term is RSD. And I prescribe it for other conditions that have been refractory to treatment. But, far more than any other pain syndrome, pain from CRPS can be flared by emotional stress or minor injury and it can spread to other areas.

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Ketamine is a short acting medication. It is both analgesic and anti-inflammatory.

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Opioids create pain; ketamine not only relieves pain, it also relieves inflammation. In fact, opioids may prevent ketamine from helping at all.

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A small number of pain specialists in the USA, most at university centers, provide IV ketamine for CRPS. Not all people respond. A lucky few may get months of pain relief, but may require monthly boosters, i.e. it may be a short acting medication only during the infusion or it may offer relief for weeks or months but not years. I do not believe anyone has published comparisons showing duration of effect.

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I view ketamine as a short acting medication that requires other combination medications to “clamp” the relief and prevent pain from recurring.

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Here is a case report posted a few years ago of my patient who had 8 months of relief from IV ketamine. It was given 24 hours/day for 5 days in May 2007, followed by four hour IV boosters two days every month. Unfortunately all ketamine stopped having any effect after 8 months. I then added multiple medications that were selected because of specific mechanisms — no opioids, no ketamine — and she has been pain free since December 2009 on a single drug.

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CASE REPORT

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Today was the 5th visit in the last two weeks with an out of state patient who has had CRPS since 1999. She also has sciatic neuropathy, chronic lumbar pain after 360 degree spinal fusion, shoulder pain, and two types of headache. Medications are now significantly helping all pain syndromes.

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Before seeing me, she had had a total of 9 infusions of IV ketamine most of them given at doses of 300mg/hr — a very high dose. She had no side effects from ketamine. One of those infusions was given for 6 days over 4 hours each day. She had failed a lidocaine infusion at high dose. A spinal cord stimulator was reprogrammed 10 times, but only made pain worse.

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I then started her on a combination of medications. With addition of the first new medication, she had 50% improvement in the first 24 to 36 hours, that lasted beyond the relief from nasal ketamine that was also started. Unfortunately, on day 8, she and another family member, came down with a virus that causes headache and severe vertigo. Nevertheless, all pain is markedly better.

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With ketamine she is able to reduce pain down to 1 on a scale of 10 for a few hours. Best of all she can carry it with her and use it as needed. She no longer needs to take two weeks out of her life to schedule IV ketamine infusions.

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It will take almost 3 months to slowly increase the other medications we started. Hopefully this combination will “clamp” the pain and prevent it from increasing so that she may become pain free without needing ketamine.

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After that, if she is able to become pain free, the plan is that we will then be able to slowly remove most of the new medications we started this week and still maintain relief of pain. I will see her again in the future.

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Sierra wildflowers

Click to embiggen

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only,

and is not a substitute for medical advice,

diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Please understand that it is not legal for me to give medical advice without a consultation.

If you wish an appointment, please telephone my office.

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For My Home Page, click here: 

Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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RSD – CRPS – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Long Distance Patients


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I see long distance patients in my office who generally come for a two week stay, and I wish to encourage their comments on this page. I am sorry I did not post this page for them sooner.

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Most people I see have been tried on every common approach to treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, CRPS. I prescribe most of those therapies as well, but I also use an expanded number of neuropharmacology approaches. Some of these are outlined in the case report I filed in March 2010. Patients have sent comments on their progress, and others have made comments on spinal cord stimulators, below.

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In my opinion, it is important to use rational polypharmacy. When pain is intense, it is important to look at more than one mechanism. Once pain comes under control and remains at zero, then we can slowly begin to taper off one at a time.

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The following describe two of the several mechanisms of interest to me.

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NMDA Antagonists

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The glutamate-NMDA receptor is profoundly important in controlling pain pathways. It is responsible for tolerance to medication and centralization of pain. Research in France has shown that with chronic pain in persons with CRPS there is an increase in NMDA receptors in the central nervous system. After pain control, the increased number of NMDA receptors returns to normal.

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With persistent pain or chronic depression, glutamate increases and becomes excitotoxic. When it attaches to the NMDA receptor, it causes calcium to enter the neuron, creates free radicals, and kills neurons. This leads to brain atrophy and potentially memory loss.

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The goal is to block this mechanism. I use three medications that work at this level.

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Morphinans – Glial dysregulation of pain pathways

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Another important area of focus for me are the morphinans which means morphine-like. Their mechanism of action is at the microglia, the immune cells in the central nervous system. There is important new research on glial dysregulation of pain pathways. Once primed and activated by pain, the next pain insult causes glia to react harder, faster and longer perpetuating pain with cascades of pro-inflammatory molecules. Glial research on pain is very recent, very new, very important, and is a rapidly growing  body of science. It offers an entirely new paradigm for treatment of chronic pain.

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The Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association library has

many research articles that you may wish to read.

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I am grateful to be invited to their workshop on activated glia.

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Contributing Factors

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I look at the whole person, review all of their medications including their vitamins and botanicals, toxicity and adverse interactions with medication. I check the blood level for 25(OH) vitamin D (done at ARUP labs), parathyroid hormone (PTH) if not already done, and stress the importance of anti-inflammatory diet, fish oil, and adequate levels of vitamin D3.

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Spinal cord stimulators – controversy

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A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses some of the controversy of interventional techniques in this evolving specialty and mentions that some studies are underway to show efficacy. Implantable devices are controversial “and questions remain about the appropriateness of their use.”

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In April 2010, new guidelines were published, updating earlier ones from 1997: Practice Guidelines for Chronic Pain Management: An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Chronic Pain Management and the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.

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“Spinal cord stimulation: One randomized controlled trial reports effective pain relief for CRPS patients at follow-up assessment periods of 6 months to 2 yr when spinal cord stimulation in combination with physical therapy is compared with physical therapy alone (Category A3 evidence).”

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A3 evidence was defined as: “The literature contains a single randomized controlled trial.”

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The guidelines had no references, nor did it indicate how old that study was. A short two year followup and a single limited study after more than 32 years of implanting these devices should call for more research.

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I do not recommend spinal cord stimulators as there is no research showing long term efficacy and no quality evidence showing they are superior treatment. Success declines after placement and that may occur the first day. In fact, there is one long term 5 year European study showing no efficacy after two years. A surgical nurse offered her frightful surgical experiences in comments below. Any invasive procedure may trigger pain in a person with CRPS and removal of the device does not necessarily relieve pain.

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Often patients are not aware that alternatives exist and are not given fully informed consent on the stimulators. Those risks include increased pain with any invasive procedure in persons with CRPS, paralysis, spasticity, infection, scarring, potential flare into generalized CRPS pain. The fact that these leads may be permanent  – they can never be removed – means that person can never undergo MRI scans in future even if they should have cancer or stroke. The leads may become scarred into nerve tissue and tethered to the spinal cord.

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A colleague, a prominent Harvard trained anesthesia pain specialist in practice for 40 years, declines to recommend stimulators or pumps for that reason: there is no long term data proving efficacy.

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Complications of spinal cord stimulators should be published. Perhaps they exist. If anyone has seen them, please advise me. I tend to see the complications or the failures, but those who place them and the corporations that fund them should have a special obligation to study the complications and the long term benefits. Having a spinal cord stimulator does not prevent use of other medication but it may add to the burden of pain to overcome. Nationally there should be an audit of stimulators placed, with patient outcomes including complications and number of revisions made. The risks are too grave not to require this and the cost is too high if there is no lasting efficacy.

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The excerpt below is from a 2003 review on spinal cord stimulation (SCS) for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It may be outdated, however Medtronic failed to provide me with any long term studies when requested:

“The use of SCS for the treatment of pain in CRPS (including RSD and causalgia) has been reported in the literature for over 25 years. The consensus opinion from experts suggests that SCS should be considered in the treatment algorithm when conservative or traditional therapies have failed. However, such considerations are not based on reliable evidence generated through well-designed randomized controlled trials. To date, there has not been a systemic evaluation of the existing literature concerning the efficacy of SCS for patients with CRPS.”

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For those wishing to come to San Diego for two week stay, please see information on long distance patients in banner at top of page.

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~~~~~The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is

not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider. ~~~~~

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