The Gastric Balloon: Is It the Future of Weight Loss or a Fad?
Losing weight is a challenge on its own, and sometimes diet and exercise don't always provide the results you're looking for. This can leave many people unsure of what to try next.
The good news is that the technology we have today allows surgeons to offer both surgical and non-surgical weight loss procedures. Obalon, for example, is a non-invasive gastric balloon that can help you rapidly lose weight. The Obalon balloon is ideal if you're not committed to bariatric surgery but still want to experience the effects of this amazing weight loss technology. Learn more about how the gastric balloon (Obalon) can help you lose weight and feel great!
What is Obalon®?
Obalon® is a 6-month, FDA-approved gastric balloon system that helps you lose weight by filling a portion of your stomach to help you feel full on less food. The Obalon system is recommended for adults age 22 and older with a body mass index (BMI) of 30-40 for whom diet and exercise have been unsuccessful.
It's not indicated for adults with BMIs over 40. However, at Healthy Life Bariatrics, we offer suitable options for patients with high BMIs. If your BMI is over 40, ask Dr. Moeinolmolki about ways we can help achieve your weight loss goals.
What makes Obalon different?
While Obalon isn't the first gastric balloon system, it offers key features that set it apart. The typical gastric balloon system requires an endoscopy procedure to place the balloon in the stomach. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a light and camera attached to it. While endoscopy is nonsurgical, it does require sedation to keep the patient comfortable. Once the balloon is in place, it's filled with a saline solution.
With the Obalon system, patients easily swallow the balloon in the form of a small capsule attached to a tiny tube. Simply swallowing the capsule at the doctor's office allows you to avoid having an endoscopy or sedation.
Once the Obalon balloon reaches the stomach, Dr. Moeinolmolki fills it with gas, releases the balloon, and removes the tube. The entire process takes only 15 minutes. An X-ray confirms that the balloon is properly placed. Up to three balloons may be placed during the first three months, with the treatment lasting six months. You continue with diet and exercise for 12 months.
What does it feel like?
Obalon creates a sense of fullness so that you eat less. Because the balloon is filled with gas and not saline, patients don't experience the uncomfortable heavy sensation common with other balloon systems. The gas-filled balloon is about the size of an orange, so patients don't generally feel the balloon in their stomachs. However, when you eat, you'll be able to tell the balloon is there, because you'll become full more quickly than you normally would.
What results can I expect?
Combined with diet and exercise, patients who use the Obalon 3-balloon system lose on average, twice as much as those using diet and exercise alone. What's more, patients who use Obalon keep close to 90% of their weight off six months after the balloons are removed.
Why Gastric Balloons May Aid Weight Loss
According to a meta-analysis in Obesity Reviews, gastric balloons promoted weight loss of approximately 15 kg over 6 months (2). Researchers hypothesize three mechanisms (3):
- Occupying space in the stomach gives a sensation of fullness, reducing appetite
- Slowed gastric emptying increases satiety signaling
- Earlier satiation leads patients to consume fewer calories
Additionally, some data indicates gastric balloons can yield metabolic improvements, like reduced blood sugar and blood pressure (4). For these reasons, balloons are an intriguing option for the right patient.
Fast facts about the Obalon 3-balloon system
- Swallow able capsule
- Nonsurgical treatment
- No anesthesia needed
- Fully reversible
- Helps jump-start long-term weight loss
Obalon is designed to bridge the gap between traditional diet and exercise and surgical weight loss procedures. Now patients have another effective option to meet their weight loss goals. In just six months, patients can achieve meaningful weight loss. As a temporary intervention, Obalon jump-starts your weight loss journey and contributes to long-term weight management.
Downsides and Complications
Gastric balloons also carry risks, including nausea/vomiting and abdominal pain. These symptoms affected over 50% of patients in some studies but tended to resolve within 1 month (5). More dangerous complications like perforation or balloon migration were rare (1% or less) but can prompt emergency surgery (6). Deaths have also been reported with balloon insertion but mainly among patients with contraindications (7).
While gastric balloons often help patients lose weight short-term, some regain weight after balloon removal. One study found patients lost 14% of total body weight on average after 6 months but regained 35-65% of lost weight a year later (8). More research is needed to clarify long-term outcomes.
Who Might Benefit Most From Gastric Balloons?
Professional guidelines note gastric balloons may aid weight loss for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30-40 kg/m2 seeking a non-surgical option (9). Candidates should also have no major health issues and have failed prior weight loss attempts. Balloons are not recommended for patients over 60 years old due to safety concerns (10). Consultation with an obesity medicine specialist is key.
The Procedure and Recovery Process
Inserting a gastric balloon is an outpatient endoscopic procedure taking ~20 minutes (11). Patients receive sedation while the deflated balloon is inserted orally and filled with saline/air. Afterward, patients may experience nausea or stomach pain for 1 week or less (12). In rare cases, serious complications like perforation might require hospitalization and surgery (13).
During the next 6 months, lifestyle modification and medical supervision help promote weight loss until balloon removal. Data is limited on whether dietary changes after balloon removal promote long-term weight maintenance (14). Sustained lifestyle changes and obesity medication/counseling may help prevent weight regain
Conclusion: The gastric balloon is it the future of weight loss or a fad?
Gastric balloons represent an innovative and minimally invasive option that can facilitate significant short-term weight loss for well-selected patients with obesity. However, long-term weight loss maintenance remains a challenge. Balloons are best viewed as a temporary tool to kick-start weight reduction rather than a standalone solution. Additional research on optimal patient selection and post-removal strategies to prevent weight regain is urgently needed. In properly chosen candidates willing to make lasting lifestyle changes, gastric balloons hold promise for combatting the epidemic of obesity and its associated health risks.