Gastric Balloon – what you need to know

A gastric balloon, or intra-gastric balloon, is a reversible surgery free procedure that you might be considering as a possible option to help with weight loss.

Before considering any procedure, you should of course discuss this with your surgeon and doctor. No procedure is risk free so make sure you are aware of all the possible alternatives and complications.

What should you expect from a gastric balloon procedure?

There are of course negatives to any medical intervention, although generally a gastric balloon has much fewer than other weight loss techniques.

A silicone balloon is inserted into the stomach via your mouth and inflated with either air or, more commonly, sterile water. The balloon has a self-sealing valve and should then be freely floating in your stomach.

One of the main complications with this surgery is that the balloon can be overinflated, sometimes resulting in bleeding or perforation. This can be a medical emergency and resulted in an extended stay in hospital.

After the procedure

You may experience discomfort, abdominal pain or vomiting soon after the balloon has been put in place in which case you may need to remain in hospital under observation. Otherwise, you should be able to go home the same day.

Once the balloon is in place, when eating, you should get the feeling you are fuller quicker.

It is common to experience an imbalance similar to travel sickness – this tends to be where you are adjusting to the weight and feeling of the balloon. This is not usually anything to worry about, although if your symptoms persist you should always consult your doctor as the balloon may not be in the right place or inflated properly.

One of the other main complications is if the balloon ruptures. Whilst it will usually pass through the bowel and be expelled there is the a possibility it can cause a bowel obstruction. This is a medical emergency and you must seek urgent medical advice.

Generally, a balloon will be left in place for up to six months before being removed. You cannot have it in place for longer as the acids inside your stomach cause the balloon material to weaken and deflate over time. If you need it in place for longer – you will have to undergo a second procedure.

What would be the benefits for me?

  • Temporary and reversible
  • No/limited hospital overnight stay
  • The procedure takes around 30 minutes to complete and a general anaesthetic is usually not required
  • No surgery and you should be able to return to work within a few days.
  • You can eat all types of food and don’t need to avoid high fats etc that you do with other weight loss procedures.
  • With the assistance of a dietician, you can learn to eat smaller portions and therefore being to change bad eating patterns you may have developed over the years. It can help bring about behavioural changes.
  • Over the 6 months, you can develop a long-term programme that works for you, after which you can have the balloon removed and the good eating can continue.
  • It is often a good way to gradually reduce weight loss, whilst still eating a healthy balanced diet.
  • Generally, patients don’t need as high a BMI as they do with other surgical procedures. This means you could have a gastric balloon with a BMI of 30, as opposed to over 40.
  • A gastric balloon may also help you kick start the weight loss procedure i.e. it can be used before another procedure, such as a gastric bypass, to help you get down to a more health BMI.

You will need to discuss this with your doctor. The gastric balloon does carry much fewer risks than other procedures, although it is not risk free.


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