A bunch of you have asked me to blog about this new weight loss trend. I think it says a lot about this that I couldn’t remember the clinical name so I googled “balloon you swallow to lose weight” and it came right up. So, you know, yikes.
The basics: Orbera is a balloon that a doctor places into the stomach and then fills with saline. It then floats around the stomach, taking up space.
Let’s see what we can learn from their own website:
During the first two weeks you can expect:
Placement of the balloon within the stomach produces an expected and predictable reaction characterized most commonly by a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux, belching, esophagitis, heartburn, diarrhea and, at times, abdominal, back or epigastric pain and cramping. Food digestion may be slowed during this adjustment period. These symptoms can be treated with antiemetic, antispasmodic, and anticholinergic medications
But hold on because there’s more in store for you:
• Gastric discomfort, feelings of nausea and vomiting following balloon placement as the digestive system adjusts to the presence of the balloon.
• Continuing nausea and vomiting. This could result from direct irritation of the lining of the stomach or as a result of the balloon blocking the outlet of the stomach. It is even theoretically possible that the balloon could prevent vomiting (not nausea or retching) by blocking the inlet to the stomach from the esophagus.
• A feeling of heaviness in the abdomen.
• Abdominal or back pain, either steady or cyclic.
• Gastroesophageal reflux.
• Influence on digestion of food.
• Blockage of food entering into the stomach.
• Bacterial growth in the fluid which fills the balloon. Rapid release of this fluid into the intestine could cause infection, fever, cramps and diarrhea.
• Injury to the lining of the digestive tract as a result of direct contact with the balloon, grasping forceps, or as a result of increased acid production by the stomach. This could lead to ulcer formation with pain, bleeding or even perforation. Surgery could be necessary to correct this condition.
• Balloon deflation and subsequent replacement.
And there are at least a couple of ways that it can kill you:
• Death due to complications related to gastric or esophageal perforation is possible.
• Death due to complications related to intestinal obstruction is possible.
In their own study the 160 people who got the balloon experienced a total of 810 “device-related Adverse Events.” in six months or less.
And what are we risking this for?
The average participant lost 21.8 pounds in the six months they spent having adverse events (that, luckily, didn’t kill them) from a silicon balloon floating around their stomachs. The control group lost 7 pounds.
Six months later, our balloon swallowers had regained 5.6 pounds (25.69%) of the weight that they lost in the first 6 months which puts them right on track to have gained back all of their weigh (with some regaining more than they lost) within 5 years. The control group had regained .7 pounds (10%,) also on track for the weight regain that the long-term studies of weight loss tell us to expect. Of course, like almost all weight loss studies, at this point they simply stopped following the subjects.
The only possible “good thing” about this that I can see is that some people whose doctors might want to amputate their stomachs might stick a balloon in them instead. It’s still terrible, but at least it is reversible and fewer people will die, or live the rest of their lives with horrific side effects, as a result.
So, basically, once again, they are asking fat people to risk our lives (not to mention quality of life) for nothing. Welcome to the “War on Obesity” which wants us thin or dead, and doesn’t much seem to care which.
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