Gastric balloons are an alternative to bariatric surgery for people with lower body mass indexes. Most patients lose between 20 and 50 pounds over six months (about 10 to 20% of total body weight).
Gastric balloons can be effective, they don’t require surgery, and they can be placed in a matter of minutes. They are temporary, however, and require a lifestyle change, education, and support for success.
- Do I Qualify
- How Are They Inserted?
- Different Types of Gastric Balloons
- How Do They Work?
- How Long Do They Last?
- Pros and Cons of Gastric Balloons
- How Much Will You Lose?
- How Much Do They Cost?
- Before Your Procedure
- Life After
Do I Qualify?
Gastric balloon procedures were approved in the United States in 2015 for patients with a BMI of 30 to 40 that have not had previous weight loss surgery. Check your BMI (Body Mass Index).
How Are They Inserted?
Gastric balloons are inserted orally. A pill is swallowed, or the gastric balloon is placed via endoscopy. Endoscopy uses a camera that is inserted into your esophagus. The gastric balloon is detached in the stomach and filled with saline or air. The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes.
2 Types of Gastric Balloons
Your surgeon may only offer one type of gastric balloon. Offering a single gastric balloon option might be because the surgeon has only trained on a single type of gastric balloon. Don’t hesitate to ask about other gastric balloon options when you meet with your surgeon.
The Obalon is the latest FDA approved gastric balloon. There are two key differences from the other gastric balloons.
- The balloon is inserted via a pill that is swallowed with a glass of water.
- It is inflated with gas. The gas may reduce the risk of acute pancreatitis that can occur with saline-filled balloons.
A total of 3 balloons are inserted. The second balloon is added a month after the first one, and the third is added during the second month.
Orbera Managed Weight Loss System
Orbera has been around the longest, has more 220,000 balloons distributed worldwide, and many successful patients.
Realizing that support and lifestyle changes are essential to patient success, Orbera offers a suite of tools to support their patients.
- Orbera offers an app and coaching for 12 months after your procedure.
- The Orbera app offers recipes and a few other items that may be worth checking out.
- They do offer one-on-one dietitian appointments along with group sessions.
The Obalon balloon is typically placed in your doctors office by swallowing a pill and drinking some water.
The Reshape and Orbera balloons are placed in an outpatient clinic under light anesthesia via endoscopy.
How Do They Work?
Gastric Balloons work in 2 ways to help you lose weight.
- They reduce the available room in your stomach for food. The average stomach is 1.5 L in volume, and the average gastric balloon takes up close to half of that space. That leaves about 60% of your stomach available for food. You physically won’t be able to eat as much in one sitting as you could pre-gastric balloon.
- The most significant benefit may be that the balloon restricts the free passage of food and water. The restriction substantially slows the passage of food through your stomach, making you feel full quicker and stay full longer.
How Long Do They Last?
Gastric balloons are designed to stay in the stomach for six months. After six months they are deflated and removed via endoscopy.
Pros and Cons of Gastric Balloons
As with weight loss surgery, there are benefits and disadvantages to gastric balloons.
- It doesn’t require surgery.
- It is quick and easy to place.
- Note: Some balloons require anesthesia to place.
- It results in weight loss.
- It may result in long-term weight loss when used in conjunction with a diet and exercise program.
- You can expect to lose between 20 to 50 pounds depending on your starting weight and lifestyle changes.
- Most patients lose around 30% of excess body weight or 10% to 30% of their total starting weight.
- You may feel full quicker and be less hungry while the balloon is in place.
- Acid reflux is common. Prilosec or other anti-reflux medications are often prescribed.
- Nausea and vomiting are very common during the first few days.
- Vomiting after eating for the first few weeks is not uncommon.
- It is temporary. How will you keep the weight off after the balloon is removed?
- Stomach cramps are common.
- Difficulty sleeping may occur. Sleep disturbances may be related to an uncomfortable stomach or acid reflux while laying down.
- Acute pancreatitis is a rare risk from an overfilled saline balloon (more here).
How Much Can I Expect to Lose?
You can typically expect to lose between 20 and 50 pounds.
The amount you lose depends on your starting weight and your ability to implement and maintain a new diet and exercise regimen. It is imperative to continue the new exercise regimen after the gastric balloon is removed, or you will regain the weight.
If you return to your old lifestyle after the balloon is removed you will regain weight.
How Much Do They Cost?
Gastric balloons are currently not covered by insurance in the United States.
- The cost ranges between $6,000 and $9,000.
Financing options are available. Use our bariatric surgeon finder to find a program near you. Give them a call and ask about cost and financing.
- There does not appear to be any cost difference between the two brands of gastric balloons.
Before the Procedure
You’ll be asked to not drink anything for six hours before the appointment and not eat for twelve hours before the procedure. It’s essential to follow these guidelines as you may become nauseous after the balloon is inflated.
The procedure takes about 20 minutes. Depending on the type of balloon you choose, you may be given a mild sedative or light anesthetic.
It is recommended to arrange transportation home after the procedure.
Your surgeon may prescribe acid-reflux and anti-nausea medicine. Make sure you pick these up or have them available when you return home.
Recovery and Life with The Balloon
Immediately after the balloon is placed, you’ll feel some discomfort, which may last a few days to a couple of weeks. Some discomfort is normal, but be sure to report anything that feels abnormal or painful to your bariatric surgeon.
During the first week after the procedure, most patients are not hungry. Some patients do experience nausea that gets worse with food intake. Weight loss can be significant during the first week. Men may lose 8 to 15 pounds during their first week. Women typically lose about 4 to 8 pounds during the first week.
Your appetite may slowly start to return during week 2. However, you should feel full after a minimal amount of food.
- During weeks 3 to 6, you’ll notice your appetite continues to get stronger, and your ability to tolerate more food will increase. You should continue to eat slowly, track what you eat, and pay attention to signs of discomfort. Hiccups, acid reflux, and nausea indicate you ate too much or too quickly.
- During weeks 7 to 12, you should continue to lose weight, typically at a slower rate compared to the first 6. Use this time to maximize your weight loss by focusing on healthy, nutrient dense foods. Implement a sustainable exercise routine. The routine should be something that can be maintained for the rest of your life. If you can’t go to the gym 3 to 5 days a week, then look for alternatives. Can you jog? Can you walk every morning?
- During weeks 12 to 26, you should focus on maintaining your weight loss. It is essential to learn how to maintain your weight loss by focusing on a healthy diet and a sustainable exercise program. A quality program will give you access to their dietitian, support groups, and other resources for up to a year after the balloon is placed. Take advantage of these programs.
While you can continue to lose weight during this period, most patients’ weight loss plateaus around three months. Be sure to take this time to turn your diet and exercise changes into habits.
While exercise is important, you cannot outrun your fork! Focus on dietary changes that you can maintain.
Gastric Balloon Removal
The balloon is deflated, grabbed and removed with a grasper that is passed down a tube inserted via your mouth.
Life After the Gastric Balloon
You’ve lost the tool that helps you feel full quickly. But you’ve gained a better understanding of your body. You’ve gained some knowledge about healthy eating and implemented a sustainable exercise routine. You look better and feel better. Now it’s time to apply that knowledge and maintain your weight loss for life.
Successful patients focus on the following after the balloon is removed:
- Eat slowly.
- Schedule your meals.
- Some programs advocate for three meals with one healthy snack in between (i.e., an apple or carrots with hummus).
- Other programs advocate for 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day.
- Whichever option you choose, stick to it. Don’t eat just because you’re bored or watching a movie or on vacation or at a party. Stick to your schedule.
- Choose nutrient-dense foods.
- Nutrient dense foods are the opposite of processed foods. These are typically vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish.
- Eliminate fast food and sodas.
- Eat slowly.
- Continue a sustainable exercise routine.
- If your exercise routine is so difficult that you are sore for days after surgery, it’s likely not something that you can maintain. Find something you can do 5 or more days a week to stay active.
Apps and Online Support Groups
Baritastic is a popular app for gastric balloon patients. Created specifically for bariatric patients, their intuitive nutrition tracking, reminders, and other features set them apart from the rest. And it’s free.
Facebook groups are a great way to share, support, and get your questions answered on your journey to better health. There are a few groups that are specific to gastric balloons, and they are private, so not everyone needs to know you’re in the group.
- The Obalon Balloon website has some great information, additional videos, and patient testimonials.
- The Orbera website has additional resources and access to their online coaching system.
On the fence between bariatric surgery or a gastric balloon? Learn more about your weight loss options.