ó After trying countless exercise and weight-loss programs,
Sherry Vukman tried a new strategy to shed some pounds ó
swallowing a balloon.
53, of Wilkins, Pa., was part of a nationwide clinical trial
to test the Obalon balloon system, which is designed to help
people with a body mass index between 30 and 40 to lose
weight. They have a BMI high enough to be considered obese but
not high enough to qualify for bariatric surgery ó a group
that has an "unmet need," said George Eid, one of
the researchers and the assistant chair of the Bariatric and
Metabolic Institute at Allegheny Health Network.
clinical trial launched in 2015 at 15 sites around the nation
and included more 300 patients. The participant swallows a
pill that contains a balloon. Once in the stomach, the
physician inflates the balloon with a nitrogen-based gas,
allowing it to take up space in the stomach, which makes
patient feel fuller faster. Over time usually three balloons
are placed in the stomach. Combined with diet and exercise
counseling, the system is meant to kick-start weight loss.
you see results, you get encouraged to do more," Eid said
at a press briefing Wednesday. "When people gain weight,
they get into a vicious cycle. The intervention is to break
average, participants lost about 7 percent of their total body
weight. Those in the control group, who received a sugar pill
along with diet and exercise counseling, lost about 4 percent.
Participants also showed improved blood pressure and lowered
their cholesterol levels.
Pittsburgh site, the 24 total participants lost an average of
25 pounds. Vukman, who received the pill with the balloon,
lost 50 pounds.
signed up for the clinical trial about the time she had
started a new job as an IT administrator, and the stress of
the adjustment was causing her to overeat, she said.
in at 210 pounds, she had the first balloon put in her stomach
in May 2015. Over the next nine weeks, she had two more
balloons put in. Initially, she was worried about how
restrictive they would be, but she said she only noticed them
when she slept and was still able to do "everything she
feel their presence after one indulgent meal though, when she
got caught up in conversation and finished off her salad. That
night, she said, "I felt like I ate a big turkey
dinner." The experience made her realize the importance
of portion control.
has kept off most of the weight since the balloons were
removed last October. She still focuses on her eating habits
and is now conscious of what foods she eats, avoiding sugary
drinks and maintaining a consistent three meals a day.
was surprised. I thought once the balloons were removed I
would suddenly be starving," she said.
Matrich, past president of the Pittsburgh Academy for
Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organization of
registered dietitians and others, said in a phone interview
that he balloon can curb the feelings of deprivation that
often accompany dieting, and can make the process of losing
weight less daunting for many.
although the balloon system is a good place to start, it can
be hard to change lifelong habits with just six months.
"During that first six months when they have the balloon,
thatís the window of opportunity to change behaviors. Itís
not a magic balloon. It doesnít do it for you. You can find
ways to eat around it," she said.
healthy BMI is below 25, and those with a BMI above 30 are
obese. This puts them at an increased risk for cardiovascular
disease, hypertension and diabetes.
the gas-filled balloon poses no significant complications but
that there is a risk for nausea, vomiting or abdominal
cramping. In rare cases, the balloon may lead to bowel
obstruction and require surgery. He said people could have the
treatment as many times as they like if they continue to have
a BMI above 30, whether for health or cosmetic reasons.
Obalon balloon system has not been approved by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, but Eid believes it will be within
the next year. It has been approved in several other
countries, including Europe, but the companyís website has
pop-ups stating the product is not intended for U.S.
are similar balloons that the FDA approved in August 2015 that
are filled with fluid rather than gas. Although Allegheny
Health Network also offers a fluid-filled option, Eid said the
gas-filled balloons lead to fewer gastrointestinal side
effects. Others say the fluid-filled balloons are more
August, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC began offering the
ORBERA Intragastric Balloon. The balloon is placed in the
stomach through the mouth and then filled with saline. Anita
Couroculas, chief of the Section of Minimally Invasive
Bariatric and General Surgery, said in an email that she
anticipates these balloons are more effective than those
filled with gas and that most people will lose between 20 and
these balloon procedures are covered by insurance.
Vukman, though, the Obalon balloon was her "Cinderella
story." This summer, more than six months after the
trial, she said she felt better doing physical activities like
biking and kayaking because she has less weight to carry
around. Her biggest motivation to maintain healthy behaviors,
she said, is her 13-year-old daughter, Hannah.
want to make sure Iím healthy enough to be around and to be
able to do things with her," she said. "I do have a
better outlook on myself. I was always worried about being the
overweight, frumpy mother."