According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of Americans today are classified as overweight or obese, and that excess weight may result in a variety of health concerns, including low energy, poor self-esteem, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Unfortunately, losing weight often can be a struggle—but there’s hope. Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Sentara RMH Medical Center are now offering a new weight-loss option known as the gastric balloon procedure. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2015, this outpatient procedure is a noninvasive, nonsurgical bariatric solution for patients who want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, while learning appropriate eating and exercise habits that can lead to a better life.
“As an accredited Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, we are pleased to be able to offer safe, comprehensive weight-loss options for patients,” says surgeon Robert Garwood, MD, of Sentara RMH Bariatric Surgery. “By adding the gastric balloon procedure, we have the opportunity to help people who may not want to have full-blown weight-loss surgery but who need that extra support to get on the right path to losing weight.”
Understanding the Gastric Balloon Procedure
The gastric balloon procedure involves the placement of a deflated silicon balloon into the stomach through the mouth and esophagus, using an endoscope while the patient is under mild sedation. Once the balloon is in place, it is inflated with a sterile saline solution, and the patient usually is able to go home within a few hours following the procedure. The balloon may remain in the stomach for up to six months, when a second endoscopic procedure is then performed to deflate and remove it.
While in the stomach, the gastric balloon limits the amount of food the patient can eat by causing a feeling of fullness and slowing down the digestive process. The medical team, which includes a nutritionist, sees each patient about every two weeks for a full year to monitor progress and teach healthier eating and lifestyle habits, which will hopefully last long after the balloon is removed.
“The balloon limits how much the patient can eat and gives a feeling of being full for longer, so patients learn what it feels like to limit their portions,” says surgeon Jayme Stokes, MD, of Sentara Martha Jefferson Medical & Surgical Associates. “That helps them make the necessary lifestyle changes when we take the balloon out after six months, and then we continue working with them for another six months to help them make their diet and exercise modifications permanent.”
Adds Dr. Garwood: “All weight-loss surgeries require lifestyle modifications to make the results last. Diet and exercise are crucial to making any attempt at weight loss successful, and this is no exception.”
Who is a Candidate for the Gastric Balloon?
The FDA has approved the gastric balloon procedure for people with a body mass index of between 30 and 40 who haven’t been able to lose weight sufficiently through diet and exercise. Patients also must have at least one obesity-related condition, such as diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol.
Studies of the gastric balloon procedure show that patients can expect to lose 25-40 percent of their excess body weight, depending on their level of commitment to the program. Many patients are able to keep 75 percent of the weight off at one year after the procedure.
Patients who are interested in the procedure should talk to their doctor about the overall health benefits of weight loss, including a boost in activity and energy level, as well as improvements in conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“We have seen studies showing that patients who undergo the gastric balloon procedure experience 3.5 times better weight loss than if they had gone on a commercial diet program or a medically supervised diet plan,” notes Dr. Garwood. “It’s a great option to improve weight loss and overall health—without the risks of surgery.”
The procedure currently isn’t covered by insurance, so patients can expect to pay more than $7,000 out of pocket. However, Sentara RMH and Sentara Martha Jefferson also offer the adjustable gastric band, the gastric sleeve and gastric bypass surgical options for weight loss, which may be covered by insurance.
“As a comprehensive weight-management center, we are pleased to be able to offer a variety of FDA-approved solutions for weight loss,” says Dr. Stokes. “We have been offering the surgical approaches, and now we have the gastric balloon procedure, which is more of a behavioral-modification approach. This is just one more tool in our tool belt, allowing us to offer more options to more patients wanting to lose weight and live healthier lives.”