Gastric balloon: Medically proven weight loss without surgery?

Despite the plethora of information out there on weight loss and exercise, many are still misinformed about how to go about shedding some kilos, as evident by the number of crash diets I see. Now, don’t get me wrong — while some effort is still effort, wouldn’t you want to sustain the results of your hard work? While fad diets may help temporarily, you’ll most likely gain back weight as fast as you lost them. 

A caloric deficit is king when trying to lose weight. Combine that with exercise, you’ll be able to reach your goals even faster. On the surface, it may sound simple, but I understand it may not be that way for some due to reasons like genetics and hormones. The biggest hurdle seems to be overcoming the feeling of hunger. “If only I wouldn’t feel so hungry all the time” — a line I commonly hear from patients. 

To solve this solution, allow me to introduce something called a gastric balloon.

What is a gastric balloon?

A gastric balloon or stomach balloon is a soft silicone balloon placed into the stomach temporarily to help with weight loss. The balloon is delivered into the stomach via an endoscope, which makes this procedure a simple and non-surgical one. 

As the balloon reaches the stomach, it is filled with saltwater and left to float around freely. The aim of the balloon is to give the feeling of fullness to prevent overeating. The lesser the food consumed, the more weight lost. 

Unlike other bariatric procedures that involve reducing the stomach size surgically, a gastric balloon does not require changing the stomach’s anatomy and is an entirely reversible process. It is however a short term solution and is removed after 6 to 12 months depending on the type of balloon the patient chooses.

Types of gastric balloons

There are three types of gastric balloons, including:

  • Elipse gastric balloon (4 months)
  • Allergan gastric balloon (6 months)
  • Spatz gastric balloon (12 months) 

The Elipse gastric balloon is an interesting new generation balloon that doesn’t require any anaesthesia for removal. Unlike other balloons, it automatically detaches itself from the body after four months and does not need a separate procedure for removal. But in general, I recommend trying out the balloon for 6 months as 6 months is a good gauge for healthy weight loss and noticeable results.

Who is eligible for a gastric balloon procedure?

The requirements for a gastric balloon procedure are generally less strict than other bariatric procedures, so it’s good for patients who have a high BMI of 30 but don’t meet the criteria for obesity surgery or are too ill to undergo surgery. 

A gastric balloon may be an option for you if:

  • You have a BMI of 30-40 
  • You have tried losing weight through diet and exercise with little to no success 
  • You are willing to commit to a healthy lifestyle after the procedure to reap in benefits and ensure the longevity of these benefits 
  • You have not had any sort of stomach or esophageal surgery before

Occasionally, I perform this procedure on brides-to-be about 6 months before their big day. In general, I would say out of all the gastric balloons I perform in a month, about 15 are on brides-to-be. But of course not every hopeful bride who wishes to lose weight can qualify; they should still at least meet the requirements. Similarly, not every overweight person may be suitable for a gastric balloon. This will depend on a screening process that I perform. 

How much weight can I lose? Will it last?

I usually project my patients to lose around 15% of their original weight or 10-25 kg depending on their starting weight. During this period, I highly recommend that you engage a team of dieticians and trainers to get your diet and exercise in check as well as to kickstart your weight loss journey. Having a proper diet and lifestyle program will set the foundation for success. 

Just like other bariatric procedures, a gastric balloon doesn’t guarantee massive weight loss — it’s just a catalyst that can help you achieve it. Most patients who comply to their diet and exercise plans during the 6 months find that even once the balloon is removed, they do not experience much difficulty adapting after since they’ve created a habit for themselves. 

If you go back to your old lifestyle habits after the balloon is removed, then yes, it’s likely you will regain the weight you lost. Of course, you can always opt to reimplement the gastric balloon, but it’s recommended to wait at least 2 months before repeating the procedure.

Can I eat normally with the balloon?

As with all gastric procedures, the first few days consist of consuming a liquid diet to adjust toe the balloon. Gradually, purees and other soft food can be introduced and eventually normal textured solid food. You’ll find that eating less is a lot more manageable due to the reduced appetite caused by the gastric balloon.

Are there any side effects involved? 

Although the gastric balloon procedure is relatively straightforward and safe, there are still some side effects to be aware of:

Nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps
This is normal and expected especially during the first 3 days. Medication will be given to manage these symptoms.

Due to suppressed appetite by the balloon, it might impact the amount of liquid consumed, but this issue will go away once the stomach has adapted to the balloon.

Ulcers are usually caused by the balloon irritating the lining of the stomach. To avoid this, doctors usually prescribe omeprazole or other medication to reduce stomach acid.

Balloon deflation
A balloon deflation happens when the silicone balloon deflates and moves through the digestive system, potentially causing a blockage. Such an occurrence is low but is considered a medical emergency if it happens.

Early removal
Early removal of the gastric balloon usually only happens if the patient is unable to tolerate the discomfort during the first few days.

In all, the gastric balloon is something you can consider if your weight loss efforts haven’t been successful. But always keep in mind that the balloon itself isn’t responsible for all the work; you must take charge to achieve the highest results.