Stomach Balloon Offers 'Little Benefit' to Severely Obese

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A small balloon temporarily placed inside the stomach to shrink its size is no better than a conventional diet program when it comes to helping severely obese people lose weight, according to a new review of studies.

In several studies, the intragastric balloon also significantly raised the risk of stomach ulcers and inflammation, said lead researcher Dr. Marcos Fernandes.

In short, the balloon "shows little benefit in terms of weight loss but more complications following the procedure," said Fernandes, with the University of Medicine of Petropolis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Fernandes and colleagues reviewed nine studies including 395 overweight and obese patients. The longest study lasted two years, and most of the studies followed patients for less than a year.

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After 12 to 24 weeks, patients had no more weight loss with the balloon than those who simply went on a diet, the Cochrane reviewers found. In one study, people who used the balloon alone lost seven pounds, while those who used the balloon and diet changes lost 11 pounds.

"Additionally, there is a tendency of the patients in gaining weight after removal of the balloon, while the diet [alone] group tended to continue losing weight," Fernandes said.

Patients who used the balloon were five times more likely than others to develop stomach ulcers, and almost 10 times more likely to experience some kind of stomach erosion or inflammation.

The intragastric balloon is a temporary weight-loss aid, inserted into the stomach where it can float freely and be inflated and deflated according to how "full" the stomach should feel.

Some patients choose the balloon as a way to lose weight without undergoing more permanent surgical treatments that shrink the size of the stomach or reroute the digestive system so that less food is absorbed in the stomach.

Dr. John Melissas, an expert in bariatric surgery at Heraklion University Hospital in Crete, Greece, has used the balloon on hundreds of his most severely obese patients, although he says it is mostly a temporary measure.

"All of them are ready to try to alter everything and to maintain their weight loss. Unfortunately, they do not succeed and half of them are later on subjected to surgery," he said.

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