Gastric Balloon: Can it Jump Start your Weight Loss Journey?

Reviewed by Vianna Costil, MD

Gastric balloon is a reversible, incision free weight loss procedure. Also called the intragastric balloon, this procedure is not currently approved in the U.S. It is, however, approved in some parts of Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, Mexico and South America.

The concept is simple. A deflated soft silicone gastric balloon is inserted into the stomach via the mouth and filled with liquid or air, reducing the amount of food the stomach can hold and causing the patient to feel fuller faster. The balloon can be left in place for up to six months. Once removed, the stomach — and sometimes the patient's appetite — returns to normal.

Gastric Balloon: Are You a Candidate?

The gastric balloon procedure may be right for someone who needs to lose weight before an upcoming, once-in-a-lifetime event, such as a wedding or high school reunion. It can also help individuals better comply with prescribed diets. Unlike with other weight loss surgeries which require a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, you only need a BMI of 27 or above to undergo the gastric balloon procedure. As a result, it is a weight loss option for lighter individuals who may not be candidates for other forms of bariatric surgery.

On the flip side, the gastric balloon procedure also may help severely obese people jump-start massive weight loss. In these cases, it also can be useful before another type of bariatric surgery such as gastric bypass if a person is deemed too obese to safely undergo a more invasive surgery. Risks of bariatric surgery are increased among individuals with a body mass index greater than 60 and/or those with certain obesity-related health conditions. The gastric balloon procedure can help a person reach a safer weight before undergoing surgery. Some obesity-related health problems (including high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea) may also improve as a result of gastric balloon weight loss, further increasing the safety of future bariatric surgery.

The Gastric Balloon Procedure: What's Involved?

The gastric balloon procedure is performed under sedation or general anesthesia.

The procedure usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to perform. No overnight hospital stay is required. In fact, you can usually go home three hours after the balloon is inserted and inflated. Some doctors prefer a patient stay overnight in the hospital.

Your bariatric surgeon will numb your throat with an anesthetic spray to allow for easier insertion of the deflated balloon. The balloon is inserted using tiny, endoscopic instruments, including a pencil-shaped probe with a tiny camera attached to it which helps the surgeon to visualize the area.

A small tube or catheter is attached to the balloon. Your surgeon will fill the balloon with approximately 400-700 ml of the saline solution or air and then remove the catheter. The balloon has a self-sealing valve. It floats freely inside the stomach. When full, the gastric balloon is too large to pass into the bowel.

Life with a Gastric Balloon

The most important lifestyle change revolves around your diet. You feel fuller earlier so you eat smaller portions of food. However, unlike other bariatric surgeries, such as lap band surgery, after which certain high-fat foods may trigger side effects, you can eat all types of foods after undergoing gastric balloon — just in smaller portions. A registered dietician can help design a healthful diet replete with necessary vitamins and minerals. In addition, you will learn the principles needed to change how you eat and think about food. This type of nutritional program will continue after the balloon is removed so you can continue to lose weight or maintain the weight you've lost.

If you overeat with a gastric balloon, you may feel extremely nauseated or vomit. It is not risk-free. Some people may experience excessive pain and vomiting.

Weight loss varies based on how well you follow dietary advice. Some studies suggest that you can expect to lose approximately 35 percent of your excess body weight with the gastric balloon in six months. By contrast, people tend to lose approximately 50 percent with lap band surgery and 65 percent with gastric bypass.

Life after Gastric Balloon

Your stomach will return to normal after the gastric balloon is removed. Advocates believe that it can still result in lasting and ongoing weight loss after removal because it helps exact behavioral changes; their theory holds that people get used to eating smaller portions of food and are therefore more inclined to continue to eat in this manner long after the balloon is removed.

Gastric Balloon Cost

The gastric balloon procedure is currently unavailable in the U.S. outside of clinical trials. In France the procedure costs 3000 Euros which is equivalent to $4,447.20 U.S.

About the Reviewer of This Article

Vianna Costil, MD, is a gastroenterologist at the Centre des Médecins Spécialistes in Paris, France. A specialist in the gastric balloon procedure, she is a member of the French National Society of Gastroenterology, the French Society of Digestive Endoscopy and the French Society for Obesity Surgery.