People fighting obesity often look for treatments that will quickly help them lose weight. Lately, an increasing number are achieving that goal by having intragastric balloons placed in their stomachs to reduce their appetite. But can they maintain their weight loss over the long term?
In our study, my colleagues and I found that people using the intragastric balloons began regaining substantial weight just a couple of years after treatment. We determined that a well-rounded supportive approach is needed to achieve lasting weight management. We presented these findings to our colleagues at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) 2017, the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers, and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy, and gastrointestinal surgery.
With the intragastric treatment, at least one balloon is placed in the stomach—with an endoscope or by swallowing a capsule—and is then inflated with liquid or gas. The intent is that patients will eat less because they feel much fuller, much faster since the balloon takes up space in the stomach.
Our team interviewed 224 people with intragastric balloons who used the device for six months. Interviewers examined medical records to note patients’ body weight measurements over the period since each patient had their balloons removed as part of routine treatment. All participants in this study had the devices removed at least two years, and at most five years, before the interviews. Interviewers also recorded patient’s weight at the interview and other factors related to weight control, such as follow-up with a nutritionist and psychologist, and variations in lifestyle and exercise.
We found that 150 of the 224 patients (67%) had some weight regain after removal of the intragastric balloon. Almost 80% of these 150 patients regained less than 20% of the weight lost during use of the device. Two years after patients had their balloons removed, they gained an average of 10 pounds. Three years after removal, their weight increase jumped to an average of 19 pounds; at the four-year mark, nearly 22 pounds. The three patients who had their balloons removed for five years gained 44 pounds.
Why they regained the weight
When we looked at the reasons that may have contributed to weight regain, we concluded that the lack of psychological support while using the balloons, lack of nutritional counseling after device withdrawal, and a sedentary lifestyle were the factors with the greatest impact. Surprisingly, it didn’t matter what the patients weighed at the start of treatment, how much they lost during treatment or their weight at the end of treatment.
I want to note that these results do not suggest that intragastric balloons are not effective. What the study shows is that weight loss therapies—whether through intragastric balloons, bariatric surgeries, minimally invasive treatments, or diets—do not hold up for long periods without changes in diet and lifestyle. Healthcare professionals and patients should always look for weight management programs that address various areas of a patient’s life if they want to increase the likelihood of long-term success.