The Swallowable Pill Gastric Balloon System
A new and innovative gastric balloon system has been introduced in Europe and elsewhere in the world; however, it is not yet approved in the United States. It is unique in not requiring surgical or endoscopic placement of the balloon, thus minimizing risk and downtime. Other than its placement and removal, it works much like other gastric balloons and may offer the average patient moderate weight loss that, with appropriate diet and lifestyle changes after placement, can lead to long-term maintenance of a lower weight.
This balloon procedure begins with a small pill connected to a long thin tube. You will swallow the pill, and after 10 to 15 minutes, an x-ray will be taken of your abdomen to ensure that the pill has arrived in the stomach. At this point, your surgeon will fill the balloon with about 650 mL of sterile saline through the thin tubing still connected to the balloon. The tubing is then removed from your stomach through the esophagus.
A second x-ray may be taken to ensure the balloon is placed appropriately in the stomach.
The function of the Swallowable Pill Gastric Balloon
The balloon is meant to be temporary and will remain in the stomach for about four months. Then, a time-release valve on the balloon will open, allowing the saline to exit the balloon and into the stomach. The saline and the balloon lining will pass through the digestive system and out of the body.
As we know, however, temporary solutions to weight loss rarely work without more intervention. Like other balloon systems, the swallowable balloon comes with a standard six-month lifestyle management program administered by your physician’s office. This program is geared toward helping you change your diet and exercise habits to ensure maximum weight loss while the balloon is in the stomach and maintaining the weight loss after it has been removed. The balloon will also offer add-on programs to either extend the duration of the lifestyle program or include other helpful features.
The results of the balloon are still forthcoming, and it has not yet been approved or deployed in the United States. However, overseas data shows that balloon patients can lose a significant amount of body weight and, with proper diet and exercise after the procedure, can usually keep this off for years.
Risks of the Swallowable Balloon
The risks of the balloon are typically very low since there is no need for an endoscopic or surgical procedure and no need for general anesthesia.
- Many patients will experience nausea after the initial placement of the balloon. This is typically well-managed with anti-nausea medication; most will return to normal within a few days. Medication may be prescribed to assist with this.
- Patients may also regain weight once the balloon is removed if they do not follow their diet and lifestyle plan closely.
- Unlike stapled bariatric procedures, there is no restriction, malabsorption, and/or hormonal component, making long-term weight loss and maintenance more difficult to achieve than stapled surgical procedures.
- If insurance reimbursement is handled similarly to other gastric balloons, patients may have to pay a significant amount, if not the entire procedure, out-of-pocket.
As with any weight loss procedure, the only way to know if it works for you is to consult a skilled and experienced bariatric or GI physician. During your consultation, you will learn more about whether a balloon is the appropriate weight loss method for you or if a stapled procedure makes more sense. You will also learn more about the procedure and its potential risks and considerations.
- Vantanasiri K, Matar R, Beran A, Jaruvongvanich V. The Efficacy and Safety of a Procedureless Gastric Balloon for Weight Loss: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.