The intra-gastric balloon
So, why people eat? Because they are hungry, of course, and from that a natural idea came to life: let's put something in the stomach to restore the felling of fullness, to forget hunger and that in turn will result in less eating.
The gastric balloon is a silicone sack filled with sterile saline which is inserted into the stomach via endoscopy, so no surgery is required, but the procedure requires general anaesthesia. This procedure is in fact a non-invasive procedure and the patient usually stays in the hospital just 12 hours, and after that he can go back to his daily activities.
This procedure is reversible which means that the balloon can - and will - be removed via endoscopy. It will be removed after six months which means that a) it is a temporary help and b) it can help in losing weight before some other medical procedure.
The balloon is usually an option for obese people with very high body mass index in which case some other procedure, like gastric banding, is extremely difficult. However, there are absolute contraindications: the intra-gastric balloon must not be fitted in teenagers, patients with a large hiatus hernia, or in those with malignant lesions.
There are also temporary contraindications that can prevent the inserting of balloon, but when the condition is cured, we can go with the balloon. Those are bulbar ulcers and round ulcers, the conditions that must be treated before balloon is inserted.
When the balloon is inserted, the doctor will follow the patient on a weekly basis, especially if vomiting occurs or if he suspect that balloon migrated in some other position. In the first week after the operation the patient is on the liquid diet and he must drink lots of water.
After that the solid food enters the game and the dietician gives precise instruction what and how much to eat. We call that "gastric balloon diet" and it serves two purposes: it focuses on losing weight and it help patient to adapt to the new eating style.
As is the case with any surgery, the balloon can have its complications too. The largest number of them is related to anaesthesia and other medical conditions, and in fact if the new generation of balloons is used there are almost no complications.
During those six months the patient can lose some 20 kilograms, but of course that number depends on the starting weight and how well the patient follows the new diet. It is important that during that time, especially in the first three weeks, cramping, nausea and vomiting are normal and lots of water will help with that. After that the gastric balloon will be removed, again via endoscopy, and the rest of the treatment can begin. ■