People experiencing chronic shortness of breath may soon have a new way to help alleviate their discomfort, according to a Penn State College of Medicine pulmonology researcher.
Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, has various causes but few treatment options. People with chronic respiratory and cardiac disease are the most often affected. Generally these patients experience some change in the way their lungs function. In order to compensate for these changes, the diaphragm sends information to the nervous system that causes dyspnea.
"Currently there is no specific treatment for dyspnea besides giving the patient morphine, which has many side effects and remains very controversial," said Philippe Haouzi, professor and physician of pulmonary and critical care medicine. "We suggest modifying the perception of shortness of breath by stimulating a specific region of the neck, akin to an approach used for the treatment of pain."
The skin is divided into sections, known as dermatomes. Internal organs and muscles share similar nerves to and from regions of the spinal cord with specific dermatomes. Gentle electrical stimulation of a dermatome blocks the transmission of certain types of information coming from the internal organs and the muscles corresponding to the same dermatome.
As the diaphragm has evolved in mammals, "the dermatome corresponding to the diaphragmatic muscle is not located in the skin of the thorax but is in the lateral region of the neck," Haouzi explained.