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Balloon Approach Helps Pre-obese and Obese Patients Shed Pounds in 2 Studies

May 6, 2010 -- Gastric balloons offer a reversible, incision-free approach to weight loss in overweight and obese people, according to two separate reports from Brazil.

In one study, 81 overweight and obese people lost an average of 20 pounds over five to seven months. In the second study, 19 obese people shed an average of 29 pounds in six months.

During the procedure, a deflated silicone balloon is inserted via the mouth and into the stomach, where it is filled with saline or air to about the size of an orange. This reduces the amount of food the stomach can hold, causing the patient to feel fuller faster and to eat less.

In the U.S., the procedure is not available outside of clinical trial settings. But it's catching on in Brazil and other countries, the researchers say.

Gastric Balloons May Help Pre-obese People Lose Weight

Paula P. Elia, MD, of Gastroendo Endoscopia Especializada in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, says she recommends balloons for overweight and obese patients who can't shed pounds with diet and exercise alone and who aren't eligible for or who don’t want to undergo gastric bypass or Lap-Band surgery.

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires that otherwise healthy people have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher to be eligible for weight loss surgery. People with a BMI of 35 or higher with co-existing conditions such as diabetes and sleep apnea are also considered candidates by the NIH. In Elia's study, some of the patients had BMIs of less than 30.

"We are using this in the pre-obese as well as the obese," she tells WebMD.

Christopher Thompson, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who moderated a news conference at Digestive Disease Week where the studies were presented, says the balloon approach might also be useful as a temporary bridge for obese patients needing non-emergency surgery.

By helping a person reach a safer weight before undergoing surgery, the procedure may help to lower the risk of complications, thereby cutting costs in the long run, he tells WebMD.

"But if it can gain FDA approval, the real role may be in the pre-obese," says Thompson, who has served as a consultant for several companies involved with weight loss surgery.

Elia says that refinements in design since gastric balloons were first introduced in the 1980s have eliminated or lowered the risk of complications such as perforation, making them more appropriate for the pre-obese.

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