How Intragastric Balloons Can Kick-Start the Weight Loss Journey

Dr. Michael Snyder explains intragastric balloon technology, a non-surgical weight loss solution recently approved by the FDA

U.S. obesity rates have continued to climb over the last 15 years. Recently, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released striking new data showing that 38 percent of U.S. adults were obese in 2014. Nationwide, adult obesity was up from 35 percent in 2012 and 30 percent in 2003. From 2011 through 2014, an estimated 36.5 percent of Americans age 20 and older had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, putting them over the threshold for obesity. Efforts behind healthy eating, increased exercise, and positive lifestyle changes are important elements of the fight against this epidemic, but sometimes, a more active intervention is needed. 

Intragastric balloon technology offers patients a non-surgical, incision-free intervention to kick-start weight loss. The balloon is inserted into a patient’s stomach endoscopically — through the mouth and down the esophagus. This is done while the patient is in a “twilight sleep” under mild anesthesia. The balloon is filled with saline until it’s about the size of a grapefruit, and then left in the stomach for six months to help a patient feel full and be satisfied with much smaller portions. The total program lasts 12 months and also includes monthly clinical support from program dieticians, medical staff, trainers, and psycholical professionals. The balloon acts as a catalyst to help reboot a patient’s hard drive so that after weight is lost, it can be maintained with new habits and an overall healthier lifestyle.'

This technology is currently offered to individuals with a BMI between 30-40 who are looking to lose 20-30 pounds. It’s a great option for those who have struggled to lose weight through diet and exercise, but who might not be ready for, or willing to go through invasive, surgical options. The Orbera balloon technology, made by Apollo Endosurgery, has been used in more than 220,000 cases around the world in over 80 countries and was just approved by the FDA in August 2015. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first physicians in the country to treat a patient using the Orbera balloon. Currently, the only other FDA approved balloon on the market is the ReShape Duo. 

At my practice in Denver, I offer various types of minimally invasive laparoscopic weight-loss techniques including gastric sleeve surgery, gastric bypass, and the Lap-Band. I have done over 6,000 of these types of procedures. I’ve seen patients find incredible success using all of these methods. However, the balloon has captured my interest in a different way. Clinical data shows that this non-surgical, non-permanent treatment option works. A review of clinical studies on these balloons done by the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy found that most patients seem to lose about one quarter of the body weight they don’t need (also known as excess body weight) with these balloons. For reference, that number is significantly higher than what many people expect to lose when they just change their lifestyle habits by eating better or exercising more. Many of those who received a balloon were also able to keep much of that weight off over the six months following balloon removal. I would also argue that they probably made lifelong changes to their eating, nutrition, and emotional habits through the treatment and with the support of my expert team.

I really believe in this technology and I’ve already seen it make a big difference in many of my patients’ lives. My patient Kelly had her balloon implanted about three months ago and has seen some great results. She has also learned a lot about her personal weight struggles and how her diet and behaviors can help or hurt her progress toward her weight loss goals. Her story is inspiring and I hope it helps others determine if intragastric balloon treatment might be a good option to start on a path toward weight loss success. 

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