Have you been battling those extra pounds for years, with no success? Are you afraid to undergo bariatric surgery? What if you could swallow a balloon and lose all that excess weight? It probably sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Throughout the last two years, the FDA approved several weight loss balloons proven to help obese patients lose weight while on a moderate diet and exercise plan.
From the First Gastric Balloons to the Latest Version
The first balloons required implantation with an endoscopic procedure and had more contraindications. Once in the stomach, they required filling with either salt water or methyl blue solution. Their removal required an endoscopic procedure and some anesthesia as well, which made the process quite invasive.
The last device approved, however, takes the form of a capsule attached to an inflation catheter, that you can swallow, and does not require surgery or anesthesia. The FDA describes it as a temporary implant meant to enable weight loss by occupying stomach space.
How Does the New Balloon Work?
Depending on how much weight you need to lose, your health condition, and your eating habits, you can swallow up to 3 balloons. They will stay in your stomach for a period of up to 6 months. Removing them will require an endoscopic procedure.
The implanting procedure should be performed by a physician, in an outpatient setting, and requires no anesthesia or endoscopy. However, it is important to have access to radiography equipment and endoscopic services during the implantation, to make sure the capsule reaches the stomach.
When you swallow the capsule, it gets in contact with stomach fluids and begins to dissolve. The physician delivers a gas pre-pulse, and performs a digital x-ray or fluoroscopy to make sure the capsule is in place.
Once its adequate position is confirmed, the physician inflates the balloon and closes the inflation valve. They use a small amount of water to create hydraulic pressure and detach the inflation catheter from the balloon.
One balloon occupies the place of 250 ml of fluid, three balloons summing up 750 ml. This volume prevents the balloons from passing through the pyloric sphincter and allows them to move freely within your stomach and occupy space. The balloons induce a feeling of fullness and help you eat less and avoid cravings.
After the 6-month period, the same physician should use an endoscopy suite for puncturing the balloon, aspirating the gas in it, and removing it from your stomach. The good news is that, contrary to general expectations, patients tend to maintain the results they achieved during the 6 months of treatment.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Although non-invasive, gastric balloons can have side effects. They cover abdominal pain, states of nausea, and even vomiting. Most of them are of mild intensity and fade away in 1 or 2 weeks. Although risks of balloon and bowel obstructions were registered upon initial device release, they are addressed and mitigated by the radiographic position confirmation upon balloon capsule swallowing.
The device is recommended for adults over 22 years of age, who have a body mass index between 30 and 40 kg/m2 and cannot lose weight by dieting and exercising. It should not replace diet and exercise, but rather support them and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
As most weight loss devices, this one has several contraindications. It is not safe or recommended for patients with:
- Functional disorders or anatomical abnormalities that could prevent them from swallowing the capsule or would not allow the capsule to reach their stomach
- Prior surgeries followed by intestinal adhesions, digestive tract narrowing, or conditions that could prevent capsule passage through the digestive tract.
- Prior bariatric surgery
- Inflammatory and pathophysiological GI tract conditions
- Acute or chronic treatments that irritate the GI tract or alter its functioning (NSAIDs, aspirin, etc.)
- Untreated infections with Helicobacter pylori
- Intolerance for prescription proton pump inhibitor medication
- Allergies to porcine origins foods and products
- Bulimia, compulsive overeating, binge eating, high liquid calorie intake habits, and other psychological disorders related to eating
- Structural or functional stomach disorders (gastroparesis, ulcers, gastritis, hiatal hernia, gastric varices, cancer, etc.
- Need for anti-platelet drugs or agents affecting blood clotting
- Pregnancy or lactation
- Duodenal ulcer history, diverticulitis, intestinal varices, intestinal stenosis, bowel obstruction, etc.
- Irritable bowel, radiation enteritis, Crohn’s disease, etc.
- Prescribed anti-seizure or anti-arrhythmic medication
- Drug or alcohol addiction.
This weight loss balloon is not a miracle pill you buy from the pharmacy and swallow to lose weight. It has yet to become available in clinics across the country. However, it is safe, less invasive than bariatric surgery, and a promising solution for obese patients who cannot lose weight through a moderate diet and exercise program.
If your body mass index is lower than the 30 kg/m2 limit, you should try the traditional solution of dieting and exercises first. If you’ve exhausted all other proven but non-invasive methods, this balloon could be your ticket to a thinner and healthier you.