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Is a “balloon pill” the answer for those who can’t lose the weight and keep it off? We asked Obalon’s Vice President of Marketing Lisa Metzner a number of questions; but first, let’s find out what the heck this balloon pill is all about.
What is an Intragastric Balloon (IGB) and a Balloon Pill?
In short, a balloon is placed in the stomach to create a “full ” feeling to minimize your desire to eat. IGBs (in one form or another) have been on the market since the 1980s– the Garren Edwards Bubble being the most recognizable and the first with U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. That approval was revoked in 1992 due to severe complications. Eventually, redesigns and improved technology once again put IGBs into the mix of weight-loss options for people who want/need to lose weight. Companies like ReShape™ and ORBERA® earned FDA approvals using silicone balloons that doctors fill with saline using a syringe once they are placed in the stomach endoscopically. ORBRERA inserts one balloon, and ReShape inserts two.
California-based Obalon® created a new IGB nicknamed the “balloon pill” that received FDA approval in 2016. Prior to that, Obalon’s technology was only available outside of the U.S. as ABCNews reported in an interview with Dr. Ariel Ortiz. There are a few differences in Obalon’s approach:
— The procedure inserts three smaller balloons into the stomach one at a time over a three-month period.
— Connected to a catheter, the incapsulated balloons are swallowed and inflated with nitrogen gas rather than saline fluid.
— There is no anesthesia.
— No post-procedure down time; get up and go.
— When it’s time to remove the balloons about six months later, there is a 15-minute endoscopic procedure (you are sedated). Here is a video.
The cost varies between $6,000 and $9,000. According to Obalon’s team, 89.6% of the weight loss was maintained after the balloons were removed. Watch some patient stories.
SheSpark talked with Obalon Vice President of Marketing Lisa Metzner to get more details. The Q&A is below.
Interview with Lisa Metzner, VP of Marketing at Obalon
SheSpark: Where did the idea of swallowing balloons for weight loss come from?
Lisa: Obalon was started with a vision to create a non-surgical device for weight loss. The idea was to provide easy, convenient placement, a weight loss option without severe discomfort and side effects and a system that aids in progressive weight loss over the entire treatment period.
SheSpark: Why three balloons instead of one or two, and what are the benefits?
Lisa: Three balloons are required to maximize your weight loss effort by filling up more than half of your stomach so you eat less. They are placed progressively over the course of three months to reduce side effects but also to stimulate progressive weight loss. In clinical trials, patients treated with three balloons lost 4 x more weight than those treated with two balloons.
SheSpark: Other balloon weightless technologies have caused major complications (including death) for some patients. What makes Obalon different enough to get FDA approval?
Lisa: The Obalon next-generation balloon technology was rigorously developed and tested over nine years. It Is a very different technology compared to earlier generation balloons, with a design intended to improve patient safety and reduce severe side effects seen with those earlier generations. The Obalon Balloons are lightweight and buoyant, weighing three grams per balloon, compared with other balloons that are filled with saline and weigh 400-900 grams. The Obalon Balloons are administered by swallowing a pill vs. endoscopic placement under anesthesia. The Obalon Balloon system consists of three balloons that are placed gradually over time vs. one large balloon, which helps reduce side effects.
SheSpark: There are some restrictions. For example, people who have had previous weight loss surgeries aren’t eligible to use Obalon. Which surgeries do those include and why does it disqualify them from the program?
Lisa: People who have had weight loss surgery such as a gastric sleeve or lap-band are not eligible to use the Obalon System. This does not include other stomach balloons. These surgeries disqualify potential patients from the program because after these surgeries the stomach anatomy may change, so placement of the balloons could lead to serious complications.
SheSpark: Your site mentions that you have to take acid-blocking meds while the balloons are inside your stomach. Why is that?
Lisa: The stomach thinks that the balloon is food so its natural response is to generate more acid to try and break them down. This can result in a patient having acid-reflux like symptoms. Having a patient take acid-blocking meds just helps put the stomach to a normal state while the balloons are inside and helps manage any symptoms that may arise.
SheSpark: Once swallowed how is the balloon inflated?
Lisa: Once the capsule reaches the stomach, it is remotely inflated with gas via a micro-catheter that is then removed, leaving a lightweight, buoyant balloon in the stomach. You can visit Obalon.com to view our animated method of action video.
SheSpark: Your site says that the procedure is accompanied by a professionally-supervised diet and exercise program. Who supervises and what are the risks of not adhering to such a program?
Lisa: Obalon physicians have a dietitian or nutritionist to help patients through their journey by using a personalized program that fits their lifestyle. The balloons are a jumpstart to kick you into a healthy lifestyle successfully; but to keep that weight loss off you need to continue with that program after the balloons are removed. Not following the program will result in suboptimal weight loss. The more you stick to the program with Obalon the more weight you will lose and the habits you adopt will help make the result long lasting. Obalon is not a diet but a lifestyle change.
Is the Balloon Pill for You?
As many learn, weight loss procedures are motivating because they help you lose a lot of weight very quickly. Continuing with a healthy lifestyle keeps the weight off in the long run. The six-month balloon pill duration is how Obalon guides you to establishing healthy habits for long-term success.
This may be the right approach for you if you meet certain criteria and understand the risks involved. For example, the system is designed for adults with obesity– a Body Mass Index of 30-40 kg/m2. Find your BMI on this calculator. Read the entire Obalon “Safety Information” page and consult with your doctor about any and all health-related procedures before taking action.
Other weight loss options may be a better fit for your needs. Take this quiz from the Beriatric Surgery Source to learn about other procedures.
The information in this article is true and complete to the best of our knowledge and is intended for educational purposes only. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author or SheSpark, LLC. The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information.
About The Author
Thea Wood is the co-publisher of SheSpark.com and a certified image consultant from Austin, TX. She wrote the upcoming e-book The Intentional Makeover and co-authored the book Socially Smart & Savvy. Thea shares styling advice at TheaWood.com, helping women create a signature style that says who they are and where they’re going.