A ‘Trial Balloon’


A ‘Trial Balloon’

SurgeonMedical practice is always striving to improve patient care. New drugs, therapies and medical devices come onto the market each year, requiring good doctors to constantly study and update themselves. Medical practice in a bariatric clinic or in the field of weight loss surgery is no exception.

The gastric balloon (or ‘intragastric balloon’) is the most recent addition to treatment options for patients who struggle with weight loss issues. Technically, the gastric balloon is a “non-surgical” treatment; it does not involve making incisions of any size, although the procedure is performed while the patient is under a mild anesthetic.

The gastric balloon is attached to a thin tube (a catheter) which the doctor uses to guide the device down the throat and into the stomach.  Next an instrument called an endoscope is used to allow the physician to watch carefully as the balloon is filled with saline solution. The procedure itself usually takes less than an hour and, because it involved the use of some anesthetic, is followed by a closely monitored recovery period of about two hours.  After the recovery period, most patients return home that day.

Using a new approach, the gastric balloon attempts to accomplish what the lap band procedure intended: to reduce the amount of food the stomach can hold without surgically altering the digestive tract. Patients feel full sooner, eat less and lose weight as a result. Studies indicate that as much as 30% of excess body weight may be lost in six months. Like the gastric lap band, it is reversible. In fact, the normal course is to remove the balloon after six months or less. Removal involves no surgical incisions; it is done using an endoscope. Following balloon removal, the stomach will return to its normal ability to hold food.

The most reliable estimates are that about 2.7% of the 216,000 total bariatric surgery procedures done in 2016 were balloons. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery tracks this statistic, even though the balloon is not technically bariatric surgery. It is a medical procedure intended to produce the same outcome: loss of excess weight.

Patients should know that, by itself, the gastric balloon will not cause weight loss. While the balloon is inserted, the person will feel full after eating less, giving them a grace period in which to alter their eating habits without feeling the hunger pangs and cravings that can wreck diets. However, this benefit is temporary, as the balloon tends to deteriorate over time and must be removed.  The six month loss of excess weight (up to 30%) is small compared to the 60 to 80% of excess weight loss expected from a gastric bypass.  To a person who carries 100 pounds of excess weight, this translates to a 30 to 50 pound difference.

Right now, medical insurance companies are not routinely covering the balloon procedure, which costs an average of $8100 in the United States.  Insurance carriers are waiting to see if the balloon procedure produces long term medical cost savings, and how they compare to gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery. Both the gastric sleeve and the gastric bypass have demonstrated a long-term reduction of medical expenses as well as a lowered risk from obesity-related disease.

In a nutshell, here are some important things to understand if you are considering the gastric balloon as a weight loss option. The gastric balloon-

  • Is a relatively low risk, safe outpatient procedure.
  • May result in shedding up to 30% of excess weight, but this is less than expected with gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery.
  • Gives the patient a grace period in which to learn good eating habits without feeling hunger or cravings.
  • Is a reversible procedure that does not permanently alter the digestive tract? However, this means that the amount of food the stomach can hold returns to normal after balloon removal.
  • The long-term outcomes are not yet in. We do not know yet how the results of gastric balloons will affect diseases like diabetes and other weight related medical problems.
  • The bottom line cost of the balloon is lower than for weight loss surgeries like gastric sleeve surgery or the gastric bypass. However, the cost of bariatric surgery is frequently covered by medical insurance, while the balloon is not.

Both the balloon and weight loss surgery procedures like the gastric sleeve or gastric bypass may be medically appropriate options for some patients. Only a careful evaluation by qualified professionals can determine which is best for a given patient. If you have any question about the areas included in general surgery, especially bariatric surgery, please contact our office. You may use Contact Dr Birkedal or phone us at (386) 231-3530. Our offices, located in Daytona, New Smyrna and Palm Coast are all part of the Florida Hospital Network.

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