Swallowable balloon can help people with obesity to shed weight

A swallowable balloon can lead to a dramatic weight loss over months but is only a temporary solution for obese patients, a medical expert warns. 

A study found that obese people lost around 2st 6lb (15kg) over 16 weeks when they used the balloon that makes people feel full.

The Elipse Balloon, which costs under €4,000, is available privately in Ireland. It is in a capsule that is swallowed with a drink of water.

The capsule is attached to a hollow plastic tube, and when the doctor checks that it is correctly in place, it is filled up with water. The tube is then detached and removed. After 16 weeks a valve disintegrates, and the device is excreted safely by the body.

In a study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal, the balloon was given to 42 obese people (29 men and 13 women).

They were typically aged 46; had a body mass index of 39; and weighed just over 17st on average. After 16 weeks people lost more than 14% of their total body weight, or around a third of their excess weight.

Work was also carried out with patients on changing their eating habits.

Study leader, Roberta Ineca from the University of Rome, said the patients were very happy with the results: “During my daily phone contacts with my patients, they shared with me their pictures and the amount of weight they lost.”

Dr Roberta Ienca, with a swallowable balloon which makes people feel full.
Dr Roberta Ienca, with a swallowable balloon which makes people feel full.

However, board member of the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Professor Carel le Roux, said the balloon is not a treatment for obesity.

Prof le Roux works at the Diabetes Complications Research Centre at University College Dublin’s Conway Institute. He said obesity is a chronic disease: “We now understand that obesity is a disease of the middle part of the brain — the part that makes you feel more hungry or makes you feel very satisfied.”

Prof le Roux, who treats people with obesity-related diseases, said, he would recommend the balloon, of which there are various types, for short-term weight loss: “If we want people who are too sick to have an operation, such as a gastric bypass, heart or knee operation we can use the balloon to get them to a safe weight in three or six months time.”

However, he does not think the balloon would be available under the public health system in Ireland in the future because the health economic benefit is very poor.

Prof le Roux said he has not used the capsule-type balloons that are available in Ireland because other balloons that are inserted into the stomach via the gullet using an endoscope are cheaper and achieve the same result.

People with obesity needed to know the balloon is not a treatment for obesity and that they will most likely regain all the weight they lost when the balloon comes out, he said: “It is not a treatment for obesity, but it is a treatment for acute weight loss that will be followed by weight gain.”

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