Obalon Balloon System for Nonsurgical Weight Loss: What You Should Know

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD on May 22, 2017Written by Lucie Wisco

Overview

The Obalon Balloon System is a nonsurgical weight loss option. It’s intended for people who haven't succeeded in losing weight through diet and exercise alone. The treatment itself takes six months, but the entire program should take 12 months. Three gas-filled intragastric balloons stay in your stomach for the first six months. You must follow a dietary and exercise program during the entire period of 12 months.

Fast fact

A 2015 consumer survey done by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery found that 88 percent of individuals are bothered by excess weight. The Obalon Balloon System is a weight loss option approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It could help you lose the extra pounds and improve your diet and exercise routine.

Who’s a good candidate?

The best candidate is an adult 22 years or older, with a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 40. You should not use this treatment if you have had prior stomach surgeries, such as gastric bypass, and if you are extremely obese with a BMI much higher than 40. There are other limitations, so if you are considering Obalon, it’s best to talk to an Obalon-trained physician.

How does Obalon work?

The Obalon Balloon System uses three intragastric balloons that occupy space in your stomach to make you feel full faster. This should help you consume smaller portions of food and make weight loss easier. Your doctor places the first Obalon Balloon at the beginning of the treatment. They will place the second balloon approximately one month later. The last balloon is placed approximately 2-3 months into your treatment. All three balloons then stay in the stomach for another three months, for a total treatment time of six months.

You should expect a professionally designed and supervised diet and exercise program to last for the first six months, and then continue for another six months after the balloons are removed from your stomach.

How much does Obalon cost?

The entire 12-month Obalon Balloon program ranges between $6,000 and $9,000. The total cost will mainly depend on your geographic location and your physician’s fees.

The Obalon Balloon System is currently not covered by medical insurance. Most offices offer financing options.

Preparing for Obalon

The Obalon Balloon treatment has a relatively long treatment time, so it will require adjustments on your part, including lifestyle modifications. Before you start the treatment, make sure you are ready to make the long-term commitment.

You will need to find an Obalon provider in your area and schedule an appointment. Only Obalon-trained physicians perform the treatment. Discuss your medical history, as well as your expectations, with your physician. They should check your overall health condition and run initial blood tests. If you’re the right candidate for Obalon and you decide to go ahead with the treatment, your physician should design an individual treatment plan for you. You should also meet with your dietitian or nutritionist to discuss your diet and exercise plan.

Obalon procedure

Each Obalon Balloon is folded in a capsule with a thin catheter attached to it. The procedure is the same for each balloon:

  • You’ll swallow the capsule with a glass of water, while your physician holds onto the catheter so that the end of it remains outside your mouth.
  • After swallowing the capsule, your physician will use an ultrasound system to make sure the capsule is safely in your stomach.
  • The balloon is then inflated with gas through the catheter.
  • The catheter is smoothly removed through your mouth, and you should be able to go back to your daily activities immediately.

The placement procedure usually takes about 10 minutes and no sedation is necessary.

Your physician will schedule placement appointments for the other two balloons, typically a month apart. You should follow your diet and exercise program during the entire Obalon six-month treatment.

At the end of the six-month period, your doctor will remove all three balloons during a short endoscopy procedure:

  • Your physician will give you a light sedation, but you stay conscious.
  • Using a special endoscopic tube with a camera, the physician deflates the balloons in the stomach and then takes the balloons out one by one with a special tool.

The removal procedure usually takes about 15 minutes and is associated with minimum downtime.

Learn more: How to prepare for an endoscopy »

How long will it take to recover after placement and removal of the balloons?

Both the placement and removal of the Obalon Balloons are nonsurgical procedures, so there is usually little to no downtime.

Are there any risks or side effects?

The Obalon Balloon System was approved by the FDA in September 2016. In the clinical trials prior to the approval, typical side effects included nausea and abdominal pain. Serious side effects were reported in less than 0.3 percent of cases.

Since the Obalon Balloons are filled with gas, and each one of them is said to weigh less than a penny coin, they have been associated with high stomach tolerability and only mild adverse events.

What to expect after Obalon

After the Obalon Balloons are removed from your stomach, you should follow the customized diet and exercise program and consult with your dietitian or nutritionist for the next six months. To keep the weight off long term, you’ll need to maintain healthy eating habits and continue to exercise regularly.

The results of the Obalon Balloon treatment are very individual and largely dependent on how rigorously you follow the diet and exercise program. In the Obalon clinical trial, participants lost twice as much weight with the Obalon Balloon System than with diet and exercise alone. Approximately 89 percent of the total weight lost at six months was still kept off at one year.

Outlook

The Obalon Balloon System may be a good weight loss option if you:

  • have had trouble losing weight with exercise and diet alone
  • have a BMI between 30 and 40
  • haven’t had stomach surgery in the past
  • are 22 or older
  • are able to commit to the 12-month treatment plan, which includes diet and lifestyle changes

This treatment is noninvasive and should only be performed by an Obalon-trained physician. For best results, follow the diet and exercise plan recommended by your doctor. Continue to eat healthy foods and exercise after the treatment is complete.

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