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The Obalon Balloon System: The Real Skinny on the Newest Weight Loss Procedure

It’s not a magic weight loss pill, but the Obalon gastric balloon system sure does sound like one.

Officially launching in January 2017, the Obalon is actually the third gastric balloon system to be FDA approved in the U.S. It is, however, markedly different than its predecessors in a number of ways.

What is it?

The Obalon six-month gastric balloon system is a swallowable, intragastric balloon for weight loss. Unlike the other FDA-approved weight loss balloons (which are filled with saline water), the Obalon balloon is inflated with gas.

Who is it for?

The Obalon system is recommended for adults aged 22 and older with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 40 kg/m2 who have not been successful with diet and exercise alone. Unlike other weight loss surgeries — namely gastric bypass and gastric sleeve— the Obalon system is not indicated for individuals who are morbidly obese.

Whereas some weight loss surgeries offer a potential reversal of obesity-related conditions like diabetes, the Obalon system aims to stop such diseases from starting.

How Does it Work?

The procedure involves swallowing a small capsule attached to a tiny tube that contains a balloon that is inflated with gas once it reaches the stomach. No anesthesia is required, meaning the capsule can be swallowed easily in the office. You drink a cup of water and swallow the capsule with the tube attached, exactly as you would any other pill. Once the capsule reaches your stomach, it releases the balloon. (This is confirmed via X-ray.) Next, your doctor inflates the balloon with gas, then the tube is removed, leaving the inflated balloon in your stomach to suppress appetite. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

Up to three balloons may be placed during the first three months, with the entire treatment lasting six months. Obalon treatment is accompanied by a moderate-intensity diet and behavior modification program.

How Does it Feel?

The inflated balloons create a feeling of fullness, which is how weight loss is achieved.

How Well Does it Work?

The average weight loss after treatment with Obalon is around 15 lbs. In one study, those who swallowed gas-filled balloon capsules lost 1.9 times more weight than their counterparts who relied on diet, exercise and lifestyle changes alone. What’s more, the study showed that the weight loss was maintained for 12 months.

How Does it Come Out?

At the end of the six-month treatment period, all balloons are removed via outpatient endoscopy under conscious sedation (you are awake but not entirely aware).

Is it Safe?

Yes. Nausea and stomach pain are the most frequent side effects.

Is it For Me?

Talk to your doctor about Obalon and whether it makes sense for you. It may be contraindicated in the face of some pre-existing conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders.

How Much Does Obalon Cost?

The balloon pill may cost about $4,000.