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How Do Gastric Balloons Work?

For people who have had long-term struggles with their weight, gastric balloons are an excellent way to help bring about significant weight loss. Especially for people who have struggled for years to lose weight through diet and exercise alone, a gastric balloon can provide the nudge they need to achieve major weight loss and change the course of their lives.

Unlike procedures like a gastric sleeve or a gastric bypass, which are types of bariatric surgery that make permanent changes to the body, gastric balloons are a non-surgical, temporary way of helping people lose weight.

What is a Gastric Balloon?

Sometimes referred to as an intragastric balloon, these inflatable balloons are used to temporarily reduce the available space in the stomach, which naturally leads to a reduced appetite.

Gastric balloons make people feel full after eating less food than they are accustomed to. Also, they delay the emptying of the stomach, so patients can go for longer periods of time between meals without feeling hungry.

Even though they are temporary, gastric balloons help achieve lasting weight loss because they facilitate the required caloric reduction that people usually find so challenging. Gastric balloons are removed after six months, but the appetite suppression they provide is critical for long-term weight loss because they help people overcome the struggles and cravings often experienced in the early days of a weight loss journey.

When used in conjunction with a weight loss and exercise program along with other lifestyle changes, gastric balloons are proven to be highly effective at helping people change the course of their health and lose weight.

How do They Insert a Gastric Balloon?

Although the intragastric balloon procedure is performed with the patient under general anesthesia, it is not considered a surgical procedure because it does not require incisions of any kind.

An intragastric balloon is inserted through the mouth by gastroscopy. A gastroscopy simply means that the doctor performs the procedure using an instrument called a gastroscope, which is a flexible tube instrument commonly used in a variety of procedures.

Because it is a non-surgical technique, having an intragastric balloon inserted is an out-patient procedure with a short recovery time. The procedure takes less than an hour to perform, so patients leave the clinic the same day of the procedure and are usually ready to return to work within a few days.

How Much Weight Can You Lose With a Gastric Balloon?

Even though an intragastric balloon only stays in the body for six months, patients can expect to lose roughly a third of their extra weight. On average, this weight loss is somewhere in the range of 14-18kg (30-40lbs). It should be noted, however, that this weight loss is contingent on the patient's adherence to a diet and exercise regimen in the six months after the balloon is inserted.

Who Should Get Gastric Balloons?

Despite its merits, an intragastric balloon isn't for everyone who wants to lose weight. Following a thorough consultation and screening process, doctors typically recommend an intragastric balloon procedure for:

  • Patients with a body mass index greater than 50 who need to lose weight before bariatric surgery

  • Patients with a body mass index of 30 - 35 (or 27 – 30 with co-morbidities)

  • Patients who are not good candidates for other forms of bariatric surgery

In all cases, patients must commit to lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and exercise, for an intragastric balloon to be effective.

Gastric balloons are not recommended for patients who have had previous stomach or esophageal surgeries.

Will a Gastric Balloon Limit my Activities?

Following the normal recovery period of a few days, patients have no difficulty resuming their normal activities. It is recommended that patients start an exercise program as soon as they feel ready to make the most of the six months that the gastric balloon will be in the stomach.

Although an intragastric balloon does not get in the way of normal physical activities, there are certain things that balloon patients should avoid. Anything that could result in dramatic pressure or elevation changes, like skydiving, scuba diving or bungee jumping, is to be avoided.

Weight Loss Tips for Gastric Balloon Patients

The six months after a gastric balloon is inserted is when patients must seize the opportunity to make lasting changes in their body weight. Here are a few tips that intragastric balloon patients have found helpful to reduce the chance of side effects and facilitate weight loss during this time.

Small Plates, Small Portions

For meals, use a small plate (i.e. a side plate rather than a dinner plate) and keep portion sizes to about the size of your palm. Avoid "family-style" meals where the table is set with various dishes to choose from. Instead, portion out your meal on a plate and pack away the leftovers before you begin eating.

Go Slowly

When you sit down for a meal, take your time. It should take you at least 20 minutes to eat. Chewing thoroughly will help you eat more slowly and avoid indigestion or acid reflux.

Wait Before Going Back for a Second Helping

If you finish your plate and are still hungry, wait about 30 minutes before going back for seconds. It can take a long time for the brain to receive the signal from the stomach that it is full, so waiting will decrease your chances of overeating.

What are the Risks of a Gastric Balloon?

As with any medical procedure, an intragastric balloon carries a certain risk of side effects. Immediately after the procedure, some people experience abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

After recovery, there is a small chance that the balloon could spontaneously deflate, which can result in acid reflux, ulcer, esophageal or gastric inflammation, bowel obstruction. In rare cases, bowel perforation or pancreatitis can occur.

Also, because the amount of weight loss during the six months when the balloon is in the stomach can be greatly affected by diet and exercise protocols, some patients do not achieve their weight loss goals.

Is a Gastric Balloon Worth It?

Absolutely! Gastric balloons are a low-risk, high-reward procedure for weight loss.

Unlike more invasive forms of bariatric surgery, gastric balloons are temporary, and easily inserted or removed. A gastric balloon procedure takes less than an hour to perform, only a few days to recover from, and it provides lasting appetite control to help people achieve major weight loss.