A breathing pacemaker consists of surgically implanted receivers and electrodes and an external transmitter with antennas worn directly over the implanted receivers.
The external transmitter and antennas send radiofrequency energy to the implanted receivers just under the skin. The receivers then convert the radio waves into stimulating pulses.
These pulses are then sent down the electrodes to the phrenic nerves, causing the diaphragms to contract. This contraction causes inhalation of air. When the pulses stop, the diaphragms relax and exhalation occurs. Repetition of this series of pulses produces a normal breathing pattern.
A breathing pacemaker can provide ventilatory support for patients with chronic respiratory insufficiency whose diaphragm, lungs, and phrenic nerves have residual function. Typically, these patients have high spinal cord injuries, central sleep apnea or other central neurological disorders or a paralyzed diaphragm.