What is a Gastric Balloon?

A gastric balloon is a non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical tool used in the treatment of obesity. In conjunction with a supervised diet it can help you achieve the health and aesthetic benefits associated with weight loss. The balloon system consists of a soft, expandable balloon, a placement tube and a filling system. The surgeon inserts the
balloon orally and then expands it with sterile saline fluid, once it is placed in your stomach. When full, the balloon is too large to pass into the bowel and will now float freely in your stomach.

Is Gastric Balloon suitable for me?

If your Body Mass Index (BMI) score is over 32, a gastric balloon may help you to achieve long-term weight loss, and the management of other medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.The gastric balloon procedure may be particularly useful for people considered too overweight to undergo vital surgery. The use of the balloon to successfully reduce weight prior to surgery can also help to reduce the risks associated with surgical procedures on overweight patients.
Your consultant will confirm your BMI score and carry out a detailed assessment, before deciding if a gastric balloon is suitable for you.

What are the benefits of a gastric balloon?

If the operation is a success, you should be able to achieve long-term weight loss. However this depends on your ability to keep to your new lifestyle. Long-term weight loss should improve any obesity-related health problems you may have, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (raised blood pressure)
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Mobility
  • Self-esteem.

However for most people the attraction of having a gastric balloon procedure is that it is minimally invasive, does not involve surgery and it can be done as a day case procedure, meaning a minimal interruption to daily life.

Are there any alternatives to gastric balloons?

The simple approach to losing weight involves eating less, improving your diet and doing more exercise. Sometimes medication prescribed by your GP can help. There are also other surgical options to gastric balloons, such as shortening your digestive tract, called a sleeve gastrectomy; by-passing your stomach and part of your intestinal tract with a gastric bypass or gastric banding which create a small pouch at the top of the stomach that limits the quantity of food than can be consumed. All of these are major surgical procedures that normally involve a hospital stay. However the balloon has fewer complications in installation and there is a lower risk of serious complications. Recovery in the more invasive procedures is also usually slower.

What does the gastric balloon operation involve?

Gastric balloon installation
The gastric balloon is introduced into the stomach through the mouth. Your surgeon will perform an initial examination of your stomach using an endoscopic camera. If no abnormalities are observed, your surgeon will proceed with placement of the balloon through your mouth and down Your oesophagus into your stomach. The balloon is made of a soft and pliable silicone elastomer material and is inserted while in its smallest, deflated form. The swallowing process is made easier with the help of a throat spray which numbs the throat area. Muscle relaxing medications are also used.
Once the balloon is inside your stomach, it is immediately filled with sterile saline through a small filling tube (catheter) attached to the balloon. Once filled, your surgeon will remove the catheter by gently pulling on the external end. The balloon has a self-sealing valve, and at this point the balloon is floating freely in your stomach.
Placement times vary, but it will usually take 20-30 minutes, after which you will be monitored by the weight loss surgeon for a short time and then may return home.

How long Is the gastric balloon left in place?

The balloon may remain in place for six months. Over time the acidic content of the stomach will weaken the balloon material and cause the balloon to deflate so longer periods of use are not recommended. Should your surgeon recommend use of the balloon for longer than six months, it is necessary that the balloon be replaced with a new one when the six-month interval has been met. While the balloon is in place, your surgeon may prescribe a course of oral medication to reduce your stomach acid, (this may reduce the possibility of stomach irritation and damage to the balloon).

Gastric balloon removal

The balloon is normally removed in the same way it was placed, via the mouth. As with the placement of the balloon your surgeon will introduce a catheter through your mouth and into your stomach. They will then puncture and deflate the balloon. Once the balloon is deflated it can be grasped and removed.

What complications can happen?

General complications of any minimally invasive procedure may include:

  • Pain
  • Minor bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Specific complications of this operation may include:
  • A feeling of imbalance similar to sea sickness
  • Gastric discomfort, nausea and vomiting are common for the first few days following balloon
  • placement
  • A feeling of heaviness in your abdomen
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Gastro–oesophageal reflux or indigestion may also occur
  • There is a theoretical (and rare) risk that the balloon could rupture. In this case it would usually pass through the bowel and be expelled naturally.

How soon will I recover from the gastric balloon procedure?

You should usually be able to go home the same day assuming your have no serious adverse reaction to the balloon. In the first few weeks you will only be able to take liquids, progressing to soft food and then to solid food. You should be able to return to work after one to two days depending on how you stomach adjusts to having a foreign object present. Sometimes the balloon causes nausea but this will  normally subside in a day or two.