A new, non-surgical weight-loss procedure that takes less than 15 minutes has the weight-loss community buzzing.
The bariatric technology – known as a gastric balloon – involves inserting a small silicon balloon into a patient’s stomach through an endoscopic procedure. A doctor fills the balloon with saline solution to create a feeling of fullness, so patients lose the urge to overeat. After six months, it’s deflated and removed.
“I have literally been on a diet since I was 13 years old,” gastric balloon patient Virginia Trice tells PEOPLE. “I’ve tried every fad diet out there but I’ve never been able to keep weight off until now.”
Since getting ReShape inserted in a 2012 trial phase (ReShape and Orbera devices have since been approved by the FDA) Trice, 59, has lost over 70 lbs.
“I was probably getting a third of the food that I was eating before,” she says. “And I was never hungry.”
Because the balloon – which can cost $7,500 to $10,000 and is not covered by insurance – is temporary and does not alter the anatomy of the stomach, the risk does exist of regaining weight once it’s removed. But Trice says it wasn’t an issue for her.
“By the time I got it out I had actually trained myself to eat only until I’m full,” she says. “And you’re going through an education process while you’re losing.” The cost of the balloon also includes a 1-year nutritional support program so patients can have guidance after it’s gone.
Though the procedure sounds like a dream for people struggling to lose weight, not everyone is a candidate. Patients must have a body mass index of 30 to 40 (whereas a BMI of 35 to 40 is required for more invasive bariatric surgery).
“Previously we had nothing to offer this patient population,” says the director of the New York Bariatric Group Dr. Shawn Garber, who has already inserted 30 balloons. The procedure is for an in-between population: patients who don’t weigh enough for gastric surgery, but who still struggle to maintain a healthy weight. They can expect to lose 20 to 70 lbs., says Garber.
And side effects are limited. “The first few days people have pretty severe nausea and vomiting, and maybe a little bit of abdominal pain from spasms of the stomach,” he says. “But after three days, most patients are feeling fine.”
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Some of the less common risks include ulcers and the chance of the balloon bursting.
“It could pop, but as a safety mechanism we put a blue dye in the saline. If the balloon were to deflate, the blue dye would get absorbed into the bloodstream and turn the urine green,” he says. “That would be a sign to take it out – before it migrates out of the stomach.”
Because the outpatient procedure requires no incision and only light sedation – and takes just 12 to 15 minutes to perform – Dr. Garber thinks it’s a great option for obese patients with an upcoming wedding, or women looking to shed baby weight.
In Trice’s case, though, she was just happy to take control of her life.
“It’s been a really good experience for me,” she says, “because I’m once again able to function without all the depression and things that go along with being overweight.”