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Balloon Therapy Offers New Weight Loss Hope

March 2016

Are you still trying to lose those last 30 to 40 pounds? Have you regained weight from a previous weight loss? Is your weight preventing you from enjoying time with your family and friends?

If you are a person who has tried to lose weight, but feel like you’ve run out of options, a new nonsurgical procedure known as endoscopic therapy may be right for you.

“The therapy involves placing a saline-filled balloon device into the stomach via the mouth through a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure,” explains Shelby Sullivan, MD, a Washington University gastroenterologist at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and director of bariatric endoscopy.  “The balloon gives a feeling of fullness and leads to a decrease in the amount of food eaten while dining.”

Dr. Sullivan offers her patients two options for intragastric balloon devices — a single balloon, Orbera™, or a dual balloon system, ReShape™ — both FDA-approved as a safe and effective alternative for weight loss.

As the first St. Louis hospital to offer both types of devices, Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and Dr. Sullivan began providing this weight loss therapy in October 2015. Patients have the option of choosing the best device for their situation after consulting with Dr. Sullivan and her team.

“A large percentage of the population is not being adequately treated for obesity. Although there are many who can benefit from bariatric surgery, it is not for every patient,” Dr. Sullivan says. “With balloon therapy, weight loss is two to three times more than when trying to lose weight through diet and exercise alone. It’s very low-risk and completely reversible. We tell patients it is a tool for weight loss, it is not a quick fix.”

The intragastric balloon device remains in a patient’s stomach for six months. It is also removed endoscopically, and patients continue in a lifestyle therapy program for an additional six months to help continue their weight loss. The physician, nurse practitioner, behavior coach, and two registered dietitians are part of the team supporting patients throughout the 12-month program.

Patients interested in balloon therapy are invited to attend an information session held on the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital campus led by Dr. Sullivan. She discusses the criteria for those who are good candidates, how the program works, and the people who support each patient during their program. At this time, insurance does not cover balloon therapy, although most insurance companies may cover an initial pre-procedure exam meeting with the doctor, medications, lab tests and other referrals.

Patients have continuous contact with Suzanne Bell, MS, CTRS, bariatric endoscopy coordinator, and behavior coach. Bell is the patient’s first point of contact, assisting with registration, scheduling and follow-up throughout their care.

Bell works with patients on their short-term goal of losing weight and also on the lifestyle changes they hope to achieve. She also focuses on practical aspects of weight loss: such as eliminating the need for an extender seatbelt on an airplane, being comfortable in smaller clothes when going down a dress size, or being able to add yoga or running to their daily physical activity.

Each balloon therapy patient attends an initial office visit with Dr. Sullivan and nurse practitioner Rachel Maday, FNP-C. Maday also follows up with patients after the procedure to address any initial side effects, such as nausea, and communicates with the patient’s other health-care providers.   

“Patients will go home the same day of the procedure, but most will experience some nausea for a couple of days after the balloon is placed,” Dr. Sullivan says. “It can take three to seven days for the stomach to acclimate to the balloon. The majority of patients are back to a normal life by day seven.”

Although balloon therapy patients cannot eat as much because they feel fuller, part of the change that is encouraged is a healthy diet. Both clinical dietitians Nancy Bradley, RD, LD, CDE, and Gail Crofton, RD, LD, CDE, offer nutrition support for weight loss.  They work with patients on their diet prior to the balloon placement, and throughout the balloon and lifestyle therapy program.

The dietitians meet with their patients on a monthly basis to evaluate their diet adequacy and goal achievement. The dietitians provide support, accountability and help patients problem solve. “Our goal is to help the patient achieve as much weight loss as they can using the tools we have to offer,” Dr. Sullivan says.

The following criteria can help patients determine if balloon therapy is right for them:

  • You are at least 30 pounds overweight
  • You have attempted weight loss through diet and exercise without success
  • You have not been diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • You do not have heartburn symptoms when taking heartburn medications
  • You have not had previous surgeries in your small intestine or stomach (exception is an uncomplicated appendectomy surgery or gall bladder removal)
  • You have not had bariatric surgery in the past
  • You are not on blood thinners
  • You are willing to participate in a medically supervised program
  • You are age 22 or older

Read through our endoscopic therapy FAQs if you are considering this type of treatment for weight loss.


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