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Everything you need to know about gastric balloon surgery

It's a compelling option, but how exactly does it work?

Your Guide to Gastric Balloon Surgery | Juniper

If you've been trying to lose weight but aren't having a lot of success on your own, you may be looking for new weight loss solutions, like the intragastric balloon procedure. It's a compelling option, as it offers a non-surgical weight loss approach that's proven to help people lose weight and achieve their weight, health, and fitness goals.

But how does a gastric balloon work? What's involved in the gastric balloon procedure and is it suitable for everyone? What kind of surgical procedure complications should you be aware of? And what kind of results should you expect?

In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about the gastric balloon procedure so that you can make the most informed decisions on your weight loss journey.

What is a gastric balloon?

A gastric balloon is a minimally invasive, non-surgical weight loss procedure in which a specialised balloon made of silicone is temporarily placed in the stomach [1].

The balloon is usually inserted into the stomach through the mouth and esophagus. Once inside the stomach, the balloon is inflated with a liquid or air to occupy space and reduce food-carrying capacity. This gives the person a sense of fullness, which can help them consume smaller portions of food.

The gastric balloon procedure is typically used as a short-term measure. It's designed to help people lose weight when diet and exercise alone have not been successful or are insufficient, but the intragastric balloon is usually removed after a few months.

However, gastric balloons are not a standalone solution for long-term weight loss, and their effectiveness also requires a real commitment to healthy lifestyle changes, including diet and regular exercise habits.

In some cases, this procedure can help someone prepare for more significant obesity surgery, as some patients will be required to lose weight before undergoing bariatric surgery in order to minimise the risk of complications.

Who is the gastric balloon suitable for?

Intragastric balloon surgery is generally considered for people who have struggled with obesity, especially when traditional methods of diet and exercise have not been successful [2][3].

Some of the common criteria that would make someone a good candidate for an intragastric balloon placement are:

  1. Body mass index (BMI): Typically, a BMI over 40 would make someone a candidate for this procedure, but a person with a BMI between 35-40 may still be eligible if they have obesity-related health conditions [10].
  2. Obesity-related health conditions: People with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, or high cholesterol may be considered good candidates.
  3. Previous failed attempts at weight loss: A history of unsuccessful attempts at losing weight via diet and exercise may make the intragastric balloon a good option to help jumpstart weight loss.
  4. Commitment to lifestyle changes: A good candidate should be willing to participate in a comprehensive weight loss program, as long-term success requires a commitment to adopting a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.
  5. Not pregnant or planning pregnancy: If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future, you may not be a suitable candidate for gastric balloon surgery.

What happens during the procedure?

Before having an intragastric balloon procedure done, you'll go through an initial consultation with your medical team, which will include a bariatric surgeon or gastroenterologist. They'll review your medical history and determine whether you're a suitable candidate for this procedure.

You'll also be required to fast for a certain period, to help reduce the risk of any procedure complications.

Balloon weight loss surgery is an outpatient procedure that takes between 20 minutes to an hour [1].

During the gastric balloon insertion procedure, the doctor will insert the balloon into the stomach through the mouth — no surgery necessary. However, your doctor may prescribe medications like a sedative to help ease your nerves beforehand [3].

They'll use an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a light and camera attached, which helps guide the doctor as they place the deflated balloon into the stomach. Next, with the specialised balloon inside, the doctor inflates it with either saline solution or air.

With the endoscopic camera, the doctor is able to ensure that the balloon is in the proper position and address any issues if necessary.

Directly after the procedure, patients are monitored for a brief period in a recovery area. Some discomfort, nausea, or vomiting may be experienced initially, but these symptoms usually subside as the body adjusts to the presence of the balloon.

What does recovery look like?

Compared to other weight loss procedures, recovery from having an intragastric balloon placement is generally faster and much less invasive.

Often done as an outpatient procedure, patients are usually monitored in the recovery area for a few hours. Provided there are no complications, they're usually discharged on the same day [2].

Some patients experience discomfort or nausea in the first week after the procedure, but symptoms usually subside after a few weeks, as the body adjusts to the presence of the intragastric balloon.

In order to ease symptoms, patients are often advised to follow a liquid diet, before transitioning to a soft diet and then eventually returning to solid food [1]. This transition takes a few weeks, and during this time, patients adjust to the changes in their eating habits. To speed up the recovery process, it's also a good idea to choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods, and to increase exercise.

Your healthcare team will also schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and provide additional support. Here, you can address any concerns, and your doctor can make adjustments to the balloon if necessary.

Are there any potential complications?

While a gastric balloon procedure is generally considered a safe and less invasive option compared to traditional bariatric surgeries, there are potential risks and complications associated with the placement and presence of the balloon.

The overall incidence of these complications is relatively low, and many individuals undergo intragastric balloon placement without any significant issues.

The most common complications are gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping in the first few days after the balloon is placed. Some people also experience some difficulty swallowing [4].

Usually — and as we mentioned before — the body will adjust, but if you experience ongoing or severe symptoms, it's best to seek medical assistance.

Balloon rupture or deflation are rare complications [1], but if either one happens, the deflated balloon may pass through the digestive system and be expelled naturally. Of course, this will limit the effectiveness of the procedure.

Another rare complication is balloon migration, which can lead to discomfort and bowel obstruction [5]. If this happens, you may need to have the balloon repositioned or removed.

Some more serious complications include irritation or erosion of the stomach lining, which can cause stomach ulcers.

As with any medical procedure, there is also a risk of infection or allergic reaction, and while these are uncommon, you should call your doctor immediately if you experience any signs of either.

What results can you expect?

When combined with the necessary diet and exercise changes, an intragastric balloon can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

On average, patients may expect to lose anywhere between 12% and 40% of their body weight during the time the balloon is in place — usually 6 months [2]. Because the intragastric balloon is generally used as a short-term intervention, your weight loss will likely be most pronounced during the first few months after the procedure.

As you lose excess body weight, it can also lead to improvements or the resolution of obesity-related health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.

Of course, the results of this procedure will vary from person to person, and it's important to remember that it's not a standalone solution.

A person's individual, long-term results will depend on many variables, including adherence to lifestyle changes, overall health, and the specific circumstances of each patient. Without an ongoing commitment to weight management after the balloon is removed, weight regain can occur.

When do you get the balloon removed?

The gastric balloon is a temporary device that is typically removed after 6 months [3].

However, this may vary depending on several factors, like the type of balloon used, how much success you're having in your weight loss goals, and the recommendations of your medical team.

While you have the balloon in, you'll have regular appointments to monitor your progress, overall health, and any potential side effects. These assessments will help your doctor determine the appropriate timing for balloon removal.

The removal process is often similar to the insertion procedure [3].

Again, the doctor will sedate you, before using an endoscopy to locate the balloon. Next, they will puncture the balloon and draw out the saline with a catheter. Finally, they'll grasp the deflated gastric balloon and gently remove it via the mouth.

Non-surgical weight loss alternatives

Now that you know everything there is to know about gastric balloon procedures, you can make an informed decision (along with your medical team) about whether it's the best course of action for you.

But if reading this article has made you second guess whether it's something you want to pursue, Juniper may have a non-surgical weight loss system that can help you achieve your goals.

Juniper's Weight Reset Programme has been designed by
UK clinicians and dietitians, and it includes revolutionary GLP-1 weight loss medication that helps suppress appetite and improve metabolic function so that you can lose weight without the stress of any medical procedures.

The Weight Reset Programme is a medical pathway for long-term, sustainable weight loss. It also includes crucial ongoing support and lifestyle coaching from our dietitians and health coaches, so that you can set yourself up for success and say goodbye to your weight woes, once and for all.

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