Spinal cord stimulation for ischemic heart disease and peripheral vascular disease

Adv Tech Stand Neurosurg. 2007;32:63-89. doi: 10.1007/978-3-211-47423-5_4.


Ischemic disease (ID) is now an important indication for electrical neuromodulation (NM), particularly in chronic pain conditions. NM is defined as a therapeutic modality that aims to restore functions of the nervous system or modulate neural structures involved in the dysfunction of organ systems. One of the NM methods used is chronic electrical stimulation of the spinal cord (spinal cord stimulation: SCS). SCS in ID, as applied to ischemic heart disease (IHD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD), started in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Patients with ID are eligible for SCS when they experience disabling pain, resulting from ischaemia. This pain should be considered therapeutically refractory to standard treatment intended to decrease metabolic demand or following revascularization procedures. Several studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of SCS on IHD and PVD by improving the quality of life of this group of severely disabled patients, without adversely influencing mortality and morbidity. SCS used as additional treatment for IHD reduces angina pectoris (AP) in its frequency and intensity, increases exercise capacity, and does not seem to mask the warning signs of a myocardial infarction. Besides the analgesic effect, different studies have demonstrated an anti-ischemic effect, as expressed by different cardiac indices such as exercise duration, ambulatory ECG recording, coronary flow measurements, and PET scans. SCS can be considered as an alternative to open heart bypass grafting (CABG) for patients at high risk from surgical procedures. Moreover, SCS appears to be more efficacious than transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). The SCS implantation technique is relatively simple: implanting an epidural electrode under local anesthesia (supervised by the anesthesist) with the tip at T1, covering the painful area with paraesthesia by external stimulation (pulse width 210, rate 85 Hz), and connecting this electrode to a subcutaneously implanted pulse generator. In PVD the pain may manifest itself at rest or during walking (claudication), disabling the patient severely. Most of the patients suffer from atherosclerotic critical limb ischemia. All patients should be therapeutically refractory (medication and revascularization) to become eligible for SCS. Ulcers on the extremities should be minimal. In PVD the same implantation technique is used as in IHD except that the tip of the electrode is positioned at T10-11. In PVD the majority of the patients show significant reduction in pain and more than half of the patients show improvement of circulatory indices, as shown by Doppler, thermography, and oximetry studies. Limb salvage studies show variable results depending on the stage of the trophic changes. The underlying mechanisms of action of SCS in PVD require further elucidation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Ischemia / therapy*
  • Patient Selection
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / therapy*
  • Spinal Cord*