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
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
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.
Saline-Filled Gastric Balloon Aids Weight Loss
Another advantage of the gastric balloon is that no hospital stay is
required, says Elia's colleague, Gregorio Feldman, MD.
"You can usually go home three hours after the balloon is inserted and
inflated," he tells WebMD. "And it can also be reinflated in place if