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Are Stomach Balloons Really the Miracle They Are Made out to Be?

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Over the past three decades, a range of surgical solutions have been developed in the fight against the global obesity epidemic. Perhaps the greatest advance yet is that of the gastric bypass. However, weight loss surgery is invasive, even if it is done using the latest laparoscopic techniques, and they continue to carry significant risks of mortality and complications with them. A surgeon will determine whether these benefits experienced from weight loss surgery to the overall health and wellbeing of a patient outweigh the drawbacks.

Who Can’t Have Gastric Surgery?

A number of people are not classed as suitable candidates for gastric surgery of any kind. These include:

  • Those who have a BMI below 40 and who do not have any comorbid diseases.
  • Those who are too young.
  • Those who are so severely obese that they would not be able to survive the anesthetic.

For these groups of people, which is a sizeable amount, it seems that there were no solutions. The young would have to wait until they were older, by which time they would usually also be heaver and would have developed more illnesses. Those with a BMI under 40 would have no choice but to continue with their poor lifestyle choices so that they could gain weight. And those who were too heavy were simply stuck like that for life.

Gastric bypassThe Gastric Balloon

In 1984, the first ever gastric balloon concept was developed by Garren-Edwards. While a brilliant and innovative concept, it turned out to be an absolute disaster. The gastric bubble, as it was called, not only had very limited success rates, it turned out to be very dangerous. This is because it did not have a membrane to protect it, which meant it would rupture inside the patient’s stomach and travel through the intestines, where it would become lodged. This created life threatening situations and the bubble was quickly abandoned.

However, the concept remained and scientists have long been interested in it. In August 2015, the Food and Drug Administration officially approved the Orbera gastric balloon for release on the market. This works on the same principle as Garren-Edwards’ idea, but the balloon has been designed to last while in the stomach, removing the danger of serious complications. The procedure involves a patient going through an endoscopic procedure whereby the balloon is placed at the top of their stomach through a tube. The same tube then fills the balloon up with a saline solution before being removed. The system is designed to remain in place for six months, after which it must be removed through a further endoscopy.

The balloon has been hailed as the greatest miracle in weight loss surgery yet. Firstly, it is minimally invasive and carries almost not complication risk other than some temporary nausea. This is why it has been approved as being both safe and effective. That it is effective is perhaps the most important thing of all, as it means it offers hope to people in excluded categories.

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