Winning the Battle of the Bulge
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Published on December 11, 2015

woman smiling weighing herself

Winning the Battle of the Bulge

Would you love to lose that extra weight for an upcoming wedding or reunion – or in the grander scheme – for better health? Have you tried dieting and exercise with little success? A non-surgical procedure that’s newly approved by the FDA might be a solution.

Balloon endoscopy provides opportunity to lose more weight than with dieting and exercise alone, yet it’s not as extensive as weight-loss surgical techniques, such as sleeve gastrectomy, lap band or roux-en-Y,” said Brad Thaemert, MD, Sioux Falls surgeon who performs this technique at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “For some patients, this can be a tool to lose weight for a special event, but then also make the lifestyle changes needed to keep from regaining the weight in the long term.”

Balloon endoscopy is best for people who need to lose 30 to 50 pounds, but have not been successful with dieting.

Same-day procedure

Under mild sedation, the balloon is placed into the stomach through the mouth using an endoscope. Once in the stomach, the balloon is filled with saline through a self-sealing valve to be about the size of a grapefruit. There are no incisions, no scars and no general anesthesia. The procedure typically takes about 20 to 30 minutes and the patient usually goes home the same day.

Once the balloon is in place, the patient works with a coach and dietitian to develop an exercise program and learn better eating techniques, such as portion control, chewing slowly and how to feel full on fewer calories.

“The balloon creates volume in your stomach so you feel full and aren’t able to overeat. It also causes the stomach to empty more slowly, and stretches the stomach wall, sending a message to your brain that you’re full,” Thaemert said.

Patients start on a liquid diet the first week before transitioning to solid foods. Then, they eat a healthy balance of lean meats, vegetables and fruits. “We limit foods that are high in carbohydrates and processed foods, because processed foods tend to be super dense in calories. We want to see people make the switch to more natural food choices,” Thaemert said.

For most people, indulging in seconds – or thirds – results in the mild discomfort of feeling “too full.” But people who have a balloon feel sick to their stomach if they eat too much. “This serves as negative reinforcement. It’s definitely not fun to overeat,” Thaemert said.

Weight loss is most rapid during the first three months. Studies show that it helps patients lose 3.1 times more weight than diet and exercise alone. The balloon is removed after about six months, but health coaching continues for a full 12 months.

A lifestyle adjustment

“I wouldn’t say it’s an easy way to lose weight. It’s a true lifestyle adjustment, similar to weight loss surgery. You can’t just continue on the way you always have and expect these procedures to work,” Thaemert said.

Rather, it’s a tool that helps ensure better success. “The success rate for dieting alone is pretty low – typically less than 5 percent. In comparison, the success rate for this procedure is over 70 percent range,” Thaemert said.

While new to the United States, more than 220,000 balloons have been placed in over 80 countries, with approximately 230 published papers documenting its clinical results.

Because it’s so new to the United States, few U.S. health insurance companies are up to speed with covering the procedure, which costs around $7,000. However, financing options are available.

“Looking better is not the only benefit of weight loss. Obesity contributes to many serious conditions that plague Americans, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and more. When you invest time and effort in weight loss, you invest in better health and possibly longer life and quality of life,” Thaemert said.

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