What’s The Catch?
Without rigorous nutrition and lifestyle coaching, the procedure won’t be effective, according to ReShape. Patients must adopt a healthy lifestyle—exercising more, eating better, and downsizing their meals to several small ones daily. These steps are crucial not only for the procedure to work but to maintain weight loss once the balloon comes out.
Side effects include nausea and sometimes vomiting in the week after the gastric balloon is inflated, though these symptoms only last a few days and can be controlled with medication. While the $9,000 price tag is thousands less than that of bariatric surgery, it’s still too expensive for many people—and the pill isn’t yet covered by insurance.
Those aren’t the only drawbacks, says Garth Davis, MD, the medical director of the Davis Clinic at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, and a fellow of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. He worries the procedure might cause patients to develop bad eating habits.
“When this gastric balloon is in your stomach, you can’t eat high fiber foods, which means no big, healthy salads,” he says. “And if you eat too much, you’re just going to vomit. So a patient might say, ‘Well, I can’t eat a salad, but I can drink a milkshake.’ You can see how that might foster really bad eating decisions.”
Should You Consider The Gastric Balloon?
Despite some misgivings, many weight loss surgeons see real potential for the procedure—as long as patients commit to making the lifestyle changes. Abraham Krikhely, MD, a surgeon in the division of minimally invasive, metabolic and weight loss surgery at Columbia University in New York City sees real potential for the pill: “While the gastric balloon is not a long-term solution, I do feel like it can help many of my patients who have a lot of medical problems associated with obesity.” He likes that the procedure is minimally invasive and that most patients can return to a normal, active lifestyle within a few days.
So, who’s an ideal candidate for the procedure? Someone with a body mass index between 30 and 40, which means they’re morbidly obese, says Krikhely. “This is a procedure for patients who need to lose weight quickly,” he says. Candidates include people prepping for actual weight-loss surgery or need an organ transplant: Losing weight can make the surgery safer.
Hooman Shabatian, MD, one of the pioneers in bringing the gastric balloon procedure to the U.S. adds that many of his patients are seeing dramatic results. “More than 220,000 successful balloon surgeries have been performed world-wide. This is a viable option for those looking to lose 30 to 40 pounds,” says Shabatian.
Adds Krikhely: “These gastric balloons are not meant to be the answer; they’re not a long-term solution. However, in conjunction with plenty of support when it comes to educating patients about proper diet and exercise support, it can be an excellent solution.”