Most people assume eating healthy and exercising will result in dramatic weight loss. And while a balanced diet and physical activity are important elements for a healthy lifestyle, they aren’t always enough to help seriously overweight people achieve weight loss goals.
For a certain subset of overweight people, bariatric surgery, including gastric bypass and adjustable gastric banding, is an option. But gastric bypass is a significant procedure as doctors essentially reshape the stomach and small intestine. It requires a three-day hospital stay and a few weeks off from work to learn how to adjust to a new way of eating.
For those not ready to take the surgical step there is a non-surgical option available at Roper St. Francis Bariatric and Metabolic Services. Intragastric balloons are placed in a patient’s stomach to take up space and make the person feel full faster. They are removed after six months.
Dr. Ken Mitchell Jr., bariatric surgeon and medical director of Roper St. Francis Bariatric and Metabolic Services, says the intragastric balloon is an option for those patients who need to jump start their weight loss, but aren’t candidates for a more significant bariatric surgery.
Roper St. Francis offers two intragastric balloon options:
1. Obalon Balloon System
Patients swallow three lightweight balloons filled with a mixture of gas and air. They ingest one balloon at a time over a period of three months, allowing them to gradually get accustomed to having less space in their stomach. Placement of the balloon takes about 10 minutes and is done as an outpatient procedure. The balloons are removed after six months during a brief outpatient endoscopic procedure performed under light, conscious sedation.
In this procedure, a physician places one thin and deflated balloon into the stomach and fills it with saline until it’s about the size of a grapefruit. This is a non-surgical, outpatient endoscopic procedure performed under light, conscious sedation. It takes about 20-30 minutes and patients go home that same day. After six months, the balloon is deflated and removed in an outpatient endoscopic procedure performed under light, conscious sedation.
Both options are FDA approved, but currently are not covered by insurance.
To qualify, patients must have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 40 and be willing to participate in medically supervised coaching to learn how to maintain their weight loss through diet, exercise and behavior modification.
Dr. Mitchell says most patients lose between 25 and 40 pounds. This procedure gives them the kick start they need to continue to lose weight. But, he notes, patients must be willing to put in the effort. They can’t eat ice cream for six months and expect to still see results from the balloon system.
“There’s nothing we can do surgically that the patient can’t undo,” he says.
This procedure also addresses what Dr. Mitchell says is a more accurate view of weight loss – measuring body fat rather than a number on the scale. There’s a tendency to focus on BMI, which is calculated based on weight and height. A person’s height isn’t going to change, so the only variable becomes weight.
Dr. Mitchell wants to help patients decrease their body fat rather than getting too focused on dropping pounds.
“It’s less about how much you weigh and more about what the body is made of,” Dr. Mitchell says.
Roper St. Francis Bariatric and Metabolic Services is one of the first centers in South Carolina to be certified to place intragastric balloons. Learn more about the intragastric balloon program .