Kimberly Rhodes is 14 years old but she's battled obesity since she was a toddler. She is not alone. But now, this may be the next non-surgical breakthrough for those who are struggling with losing weight.
"It is a balloon that is used to take up space in the stomach to help people lose their appetite," explained Professor of Medicine and Chief of Endoscopy at the Washington University School of Medicine, Steven Edmundowicz, MD.
The Obalon balloon is inside a capsule and attached to a slender tube. It's swallowed by the patient. And in less than five minutes, the capsule dissolves, releasing the balloon.
"Once it's in the stomach, it is then attached to a little nitrogen canister and it is inflated with nitrogen gas," said Edmundowicz.
After two weeks, a second balloon can be added, even a third if needed.
"Most patients feel that there's something different in their stomach, they feel a sense of fullness, a sense of something there, but they don't really feel like they can't eat," Edmundowicz said.
After six months, a scope through the mouth is used to deflate the balloon and remove it. Edmundowicz says the results can be similar to gastric bypass surgery, but as with any weight loss method, the patient has to be motivated.
"Anyone can gain weight with any of these interventions, whether its surgery or the balloons, if they modify their diet and they drink high-caloric drinks, for example, all day long, you'll still be able to gain weight," Edmundowicz clarified.
The only risk would be if the balloon collapses and causes an obstruction in the intestinal track, but that has not happened in the clinical trials happening in more than a dozen hospitals across the country. Although it may take a few more years to get FDA approval in the United States, it is available in Europe, Mexico and the Middle East.