Stomach Balloon For Weight Loss
Gastric balloons are medical devices used in the treatment of obesity by restricting how much food passes into the stomach. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Afterward, patients will experience some discomfort such as severe pain at the incision site and mild nausea. They may also feel gas pains similar to indigestion after eating for several days following the operation. Most side effects disappear within one week. In rare cases, complications can arise that require additional treatment.
The first use of this device was in 1980 when Dr. Robert DeMellin placed a latex rubber tube filled with saline solution into the stomachs of four severely overweight women. This “balloon” prevented them from swallowing which caused their stomach contents to back up into their small intestines where they eventually were passed out. He then removed the balloon through a surgical incision on the left abdomen. Later he added a needle valve to allow the patient to relieve pressure if necessary [Source: WebMD].
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Jeffrey Lutkin placed his own version of the balloon — a silicon rubber sleeve containing 16 stents (small metal frames) — directly into the stomach using endoscopy. The silicone sleeve has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, more than 1,000 patients worldwide have undergone the procedure [Source: Forbes].
How does it work?
A gastric balloon is made of soft elastic silicone that’s inserted through the mouth or nose and guided down into the stomach via the esophagus. When inflated, it creates a seal around the upper portion of the stomach so that nothing but liquids pass through. When empty, the balloon slides out through the same opening. Once inside the stomach, the balloon is attached to a flexible plastic band. Patients wear this band 24 hours a day until the balloon is deflated and removed.
Before being sent home, each patient receives a personal training session designed specifically for them. During this two-hour session, registered dietitians teach patients how to eat safely while wearing the band. They also discuss other ways to promote weight loss like exercising and taking nutritional supplements. After three weeks, patients return for a follow-up appointment with a psychologist. Here they learn how to cope with stress associated with the procedure and how to maintain long term success.
Who should consider gastric balloon therapy?
Like all forms of bariatric surgery, gastric balloons must be recommended by your physician. You cannot buy these devices yourself because each state has different laws regarding the sale of medicine without a doctor’s prescription. Patients who meet the following guidelines are eligible for the procedure:
You’re between 40 and 75 years old
Your BMI is greater than 35
You’ve tried and failed to lose weight through dieting and exercise alone
You have no health problems that would make you unsuitable for the operation
If you fall into any of those categories, please consult with your primary care provider before making your final decision.
After deciding to go ahead with the procedure, what happens next?
Once you’re ready, your surgeon will perform a physical exam. It usually takes place a few days prior to the actual surgery. A nurse practitioner will review your test results with you and explain the entire process. She’ll also show you photos of previous surgeries, answer questions about your expectations, and give you tips on how to prepare for the upcoming event.
On the day of the procedure, you’ll arrive early enough to fill out paperwork and get prepped. General anesthesia is commonly administered during the procedure. Once you wake up, you’ll probably notice some drainage tubes sticking out of your incisions. These drain fluids, known as bilious secretions, contain bile acids and undigested fats that often smell bad. Your doctor may remove these tubes later on but typically makes an effort to keep them in place because they provide valuable information about your digestion.
When removing the balloon, your surgeon will need to break the seal created by inflation. To prevent injury, the balloon is slowly withdrawn in increments (usually 0.5 inch per month), and the stomach is continuously monitored for signs of bleeding or internal organs moving toward the chest cavity.
What are the risks involved?
Most gastric balloons pose little risk compared to traditional bariatric procedures. Despite widespread use, there haven’t been major reports of serious complications. However, there are still some potential risks.
During the insertion procedure, the balloon can dislodge accidentally and cause blockage of important blood vessels. Additionally, since the balloon contains air, it needs to be kept sealed. If the seal fails, air could leak into surrounding tissue causing infection or even death. Other possible complications include vomiting, bloating, acid reflux, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Rarely, the balloon itself might rupture or slip off its track.
Following removal, patients experience milder symptoms including nausea, pain, flatulence, and postoperative swelling. Some may develop a temporary hernia at the point of entry. Fortunately, most of these issues resolve themselves over time. Occasionally, a small amount of fluid collects beneath the skin near the incision. This can become infected and requires special attention.
Will I look different?
As mentioned earlier, the placement of the balloon is done through a small incision in the lower part of the stomach. As a result, the size of the new entrance is smaller than the diameter of the original hole. Once the balloon is inflated, it seals the large intestine against the stomach wall creating a pouch. This reduces the amount of space available for food intake.
People who undergo gastric bypass surgery can expect significant changes to their appearance. Their abdomen will appear larger because it will be flatter and wider instead of round. Also, due to the reduction in size, the distance between the top of the belly button and the pubic bone will increase. Women may find it difficult to insert tampons. Men may experience erectile dysfunction once again.
What kind of support system do I need?
Since gastric balloons are intended to be worn 24/7, you’ll need someone to help you put it on every day. There are many companies offering this service. Ask friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, or anyone else willing to take care of the task for you. You don’t want to worry about forgetting it overnight or leaving it somewhere unattended.
It’s also important to remember that the band isn’t meant to replace regular visits to the gym. You won’t be able to use weights or other equipment. Instead, you’ll need to participate in moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes five times a week. Walking, swimming, biking, hiking, running, and aerobics classes are all suitable options. If you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about quitting because they can both weaken the effectiveness of the balloon.
Is gastric balloon worth it?
Weight loss varies among individuals. While some people report losing only a couple pounds per year, others gain up to 30 pounds in just a few months. Gastric balloons offer a modest rate of weight loss but one that you can count on. Unlike other types of bariatric surgery, there’s no waiting period required before having the balloon inserted. And unlike other methods, balloons are reversible. People get the chance to try the treatment twice, allowing them to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
There are also other reasons why gastric balloons are beneficial. Many doctors claim that they encourage healthier diets, improve overall fitness levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. This method can also help control diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Whether you choose to undergo the procedure depends upon the individual circumstances. Talk to your primary care provider about your specific situation, lifestyle, and goals. Only you know exactly what’s best for you.
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