Gastric balloons: redefining obesity treatment

Published on: May 16, 2023

Table of Contents

Gastric balloons :redefining obesity treatment


In the escalating global battle against obesity—a condition affecting over 650 million adults worldwide [1]—healthcare providers continuously seek innovative and effective treatment methods.

Traditionally, obesity management has revolved around lifestyle modifications, pharmacological interventions, and bariatric surgery [2]. 

These options often present considerable challenges, such as maintaining long-term weight loss with lifestyle changes, potential side effects of medications, and the invasive nature of surgery [3]. 

In recent years, gastric balloons, a less invasive and potentially more cost-effective procedure, have emerged as a promising alternative in the fight against obesity [4].

A brief overview of obesity

Gastric balloons, also known as intragastric balloons, are temporary devices placed in the stomach to limit food intake, thus promoting weight loss. 

This intervention is typically reserved for individuals with limited success with traditional weight-loss strategies or those not eligible for surgery [5]. 

As we delve into gastric balloons, we will examine this fascinating technology’s advantages, risks, prospects advantages, risks, and possibilities of this fascinating technology in redefining obesity treatment. 

Stay with us as we embark on this journey, navigating the intricate terrain of this novel approach to combating obesity.

Understanding Obesity

Understanding obesity is central to appreciating the role of gastric balloons in its treatment. 

Obesity, a global epidemic affecting adults and children, is characterised by an excess accumulation of body fat, typically resulting from an imbalance between caloric intake and energy expenditure [6]. 

It’s more than just a cosmetic issue—a complex disease with severe physical, emotional, and social implications.

Nature of obesity

Physically, obesity dramatically increases the risk of numerous health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and even premature death [7]. The severity of these health risks generally escalates with the increasing severity of obesity. The complex interplay between genetic, metabolic, and environmental factors underscores obesity’s multifactorial nature [8].

Emotionally, obesity often leads to psychological distress. Studies show a significant association between obesity and various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem [9]. The psychological impact of obesity is often compounded by societal stigma and discrimination, further exacerbating mental health issues.

Socially, obesity can lead to isolation, bias, and discrimination in various settings, including the workplace, educational institutions, and healthcare facilities [10]. These social consequences, in turn, can negatively affect the mental health of individuals living with obesity and hinder their efforts to address the disease.

Redefining lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.

Traditionally, obesity treatments have focused on lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes, increased physical activity, and behaviour modifications. 

While these interventions are vital, they often prove insufficient for long-term weight maintenance, and most individuals regain weight after initial loss [11].

Pharmacological interventions are also used alone or in combination with lifestyle changes. However, while some medications can assist with weight management, they often come with side effects, and weight loss tends to plateau over time [12].

Bariatric surgery, a more invasive intervention, has shown efficacy in achieving significant weight loss and improving obesity-related comorbidities. It is typically reserved for individuals with severe obesity due to its invasiveness, potential complications, and high costs [13].

Given these limitations of conventional treatments, searching for more effective, less invasive, and affordable options is ongoing. The rise of gastric balloons in this context presents a novel and promising approach, which we will explore in the subsequent sections of this article.

Introduction to gastric balloons

As we traverse the landscape of obesity treatment, it’s impossible to ignore the rising prominence of gastric balloons—an intervention that offers a less invasive and potentially more cost-effective solution for weight loss [14]. 

Gastric balloons, also known as intragastric balloons (IGBs), are temporary devices placed in the stomach to reduce food intake by inducing a feeling of fullness [15].

The concept of gastric balloons dates back to the 1980s. Still, their use in clinical practice has gained momentum only in the past decade, mainly due to advancements in balloon technology and endoscopic techniques [16]. 

Today, several types of IGBs are available, differing in materials (silicone or polymer), volume, method of filling (air or fluid), and mode of insertion and removal.

An overview of the procedure for inserting and removing gastric balloons.

The procedure for placing a gastric balloon is relatively straightforward and typically performed on an outpatient basis. Under sedation, an endoscope— a flexible tube equipped with a camera and light—is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. The deflated balloon is passed through the endoscope, positioned in the stomach, and filled with saline solution or air. The entire procedure usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes [17]. After approximately six months, the balloon is deflated and removed using a similar endoscopic procedure.

The efficacy of IGBs in promoting weight loss has been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials. These devices reduce the stomach’s capacity, which helps control portion sizes and minimise calorie intake [18]. However, the success of this intervention is also largely dependent on accompanying lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise.

 Redefine obesity treatment

Importantly, gastric balloons serve as a transitional tool to support initial weight loss and help individuals adapt to a healthier lifestyle. They are temporary solutions, and their effectiveness diminishes once removed. Therefore, IGBs must be integrated into a comprehensive weight management program that includes dietary counselling, physical activity, and behavioural therapy.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the advantages, risks, and prospects of gastric balloons and how they stand to.

The advantages of gastric balloon

Gastric balloons offer several advantages that position them as an increasingly popular option in managing obesity, primarily due to their less invasive nature, cost-effectiveness, and role in facilitating lifestyle changes [19].

Firstly, the insertion and removal of gastric balloons is less invasive than bariatric surgery. The procedure involves endoscopy, does not require incisions, and is typically performed outpatient. This results in fewer post-procedure complications and faster recovery than surgical interventions [20].

Secondly, gastric balloons are cost-effective. The overall costs of gastric balloon procedures, including the balloon device, placement, removal, and associated healthcare visits, are generally lower than those of bariatric surgery [21]. This affordability can make weight loss interventions more accessible to a broader population of individuals struggling with obesity.

Presentation of statistical data and case studies to support the benefits of gastric balloons.

Additionally, gastric balloons are effective in facilitating significant weight loss. A meta-analysis of studies reported that patients with gastric balloons lost an average of 14.7% of their initial body weight, significantly improving diet and exercise alone [22]. This weight loss can improve obesity-related health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea [23].

Another advantage of gastric balloons is their role as a tool to help patients adapt to healthier lifestyles. The feeling of satiety induced by the balloon can help patients adjust to smaller portions and lower-calorie diets. Moreover, many gastric balloon programs include comprehensive lifestyle support, such as nutritional counselling and physical activity guidance, which can further facilitate weight loss and maintenance [24].

Comparison of gastric balloons with traditional treatments, emphasising their relative advantages.

Lastly, gastric balloons are reversible and adjustable. If a patient experiences intolerable side effects or the balloon is not achieving the desired results, it can be deflated and removed anytime. Some balloons can also be adjusted in volume to optimise tolerability and effectiveness.

While these advantages make gastric balloons an appealing option for many patients, it’s essential to remember that they are not a cure-all solution. Like any medical intervention, they have potential risks and limitations, which we will explore in the next section.

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The risks and limitations of gastric balloons

Potential risks, side effects, and contraindications are associated with gastric balloons.

While gastric balloons offer many advantages in managing obesity, it’s crucial to acknowledge their potential risks and limitations.

The most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and discomfort, particularly in the first few days following balloon placement [25]. In rare cases, more severe complications, such as gastric ulcers, perforation, or balloon migration, may require urgent removal [26].

Gastric balloons are temporary devices, typically removed after six months. Therefore, they need to provide a long-term solution. The weight lost during this period can be regained if the patient does not adopt and maintain healthier eating and exercise habits [27].

Furthermore, while gastric balloons have been shown to facilitate significant weight loss, the amount of weight lost varies among individuals. It is generally less than what can be achieved through bariatric surgery [28]. It’s also important to note that gastric balloons are usually recommended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 40 and may not be suitable for those with more severe obesity [29].

Limitations of gastric balloons, including their temporary nature and the requirement for lifestyle changes post-procedure.

Another limitation is that gastric balloons do not directly address comorbid conditions related to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension. While weight loss can improve these conditions, the balloon does not alter the underlying metabolic abnormalities [30].

Not all individuals are suitable candidates for gastric balloons. Contraindications include previous gastric surgery, certain gastrointestinal diseases, and unwillingness to participate in a medically supervised program. Furthermore, some people might not tolerate the balloon and may need it removed prematurely.

With these potential risks and limitations, the gastric balloon remains valuable in the obesity treatment toolbox, particularly for those not candidates for or who wish to avoid more invasive surgical options.

Future prospects and improvements in gastric balloons

In the evolving landscape of obesity treatment, the future of gastric balloons holds promise, driven by advancements in technology and ongoing research aimed at overcoming their limitations and enhancing their effectiveness [31].

One key development area is the design and materials used in gastric balloons. Innovations are focused on improving patient comfort, reducing side effects, and enhancing weight loss outcomes. For example, adjustable gastric balloons, which allow the volume of the balloon to be modified post-placement, are under investigation. This could enable individualised treatment plans, optimising weight loss and tolerability for each patient [32].

Another promising development is the incorporation of telemedicine into gastric balloon programs. 

Given the importance of lifestyle changes in maintaining weight loss after balloon removal, remote monitoring and support through digital platforms could enhance patient engagement and long-term outcomes. Telemedicine can provide patients convenient access to dietary counselling, physical activity guidance, and behavioural therapy, essential components of comprehensive weight management programs [33].

Current research and technological advancements improve the efficacy and safety of gastric balloons.

Research is underway to extend the duration of gastric balloon placement beyond the current six months, potentially enhancing their effectiveness. Long-term studies are needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of prolonged balloon placement [34].

Regarding patient selection, studies are also being conducted to identify the characteristics of individuals most likely to benefit from gastric balloons. This could lead to more personalised treatment strategies, maximising the benefits and minimising the risks for each patient [35].

Gastric balloon technology and how they might further redefine obesity treatment

They are exploring the potential role of gastric balloons in managing obesity-related comorbidities. While weight loss can improve conditions like type 2 diabetes and hypertension, emerging evidence suggests gastric balloons may also have direct metabolic effects beyond their impact on body weight. More research is needed to fully understand these potential benefits and their implications for patient care [36].

The future of gastric balloons in obesity treatment is bright. Ongoing advancements and research have the potential to enhance their effectiveness, broaden their applicability, and solidify their role in the multifaceted approach to obesity management.


In summary, gastric balloons are redefining obesity treatment by offering a less invasive, cost-effective, and temporary option to facilitate significant weight loss and aid in adopting healthier lifestyle habits [37]. While they have limitations, including potential side effects and variability in effectiveness, ongoing research and technological advancements are steadily enhancing their role in obesity management [38].

The future of gastric balloons is promising, with developments in balloon design, digital health integration, and personalised treatment strategies that may improve patient outcomes and expand their applicability [39]. Continued research is necessary to fully understand the potential of this tool in managing obesity and its comorbid conditions.

It is clear that gastric balloons, as part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to obesity treatment, have the potential to significantly impact the lives of many individuals struggling with this complex, chronic disease [40].


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