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A phrenic nerve pacer is an implantable device that gives respiratory support to patients who cannot breathe on their own.


A phrenic nerve pacer is an implantable device that provides respiratory support for patients who are unable to breathe independently typically due to a high spinal cord injury, but sometimes due to other conditions (sleep apnea or congenital central hypoventilcation syndrome for example)

Our multidisciplinary team of physicians at the Mass General Paralysis Center will examine a patient experiencing those conditions to determine if implanting a phrenic nerve pacer is the best course of action. If it is, an electrode and receiver will be surgically implanted just underneath the patient’s skin. The electrode is placed on the phrenic nerve (the lower part of the neck or within the chest), and an external antenna and transmitter are worn on the skin.

How it Works

The transmitter converts radiofrequency energy and sends them to the electrode. This causes the diaphragm to contract and results in a breathing pattern that is more natural than a mechanical ventilator.

Comparison to Mechanical Ventilators

Some patients with a high spinal cord injury that results in paralysis of the phrenic nerve require a ventilator to help them breathe. For patients who do not want to depend on a ventilator, a phrenic nerve pacer may provide an alternative.

A phrenic nerve pacers has a variety of advantages over mechanical ventilators, including:

  • It allows a patient to maintain normal speech and breathing
  • It makes eating and drinking easier
  • It is small and unobtrusive
  • It is made to last a lifetime
  • It is more cost effective

It has also been reported that phrenic nerve pacers carry less of a risk for infection than mechanical ventilators.

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