Balloon approved for use as treatment for obesity

- It's a sobering statistic. A 2015 report places 78.6 million U.S. adults, or more than one-third, in the obese category. 

Along with diet, exercise, medication and surgical procedures, the FDA has approved another treatment for obesity: the Orbera Intragastric Balloon.

Using an endoscope, surgeons slide a deflated balloon down the esophagus and into the stomach. Once filled with fluid, the balloon is disconnected and left behind. The procedure takes about 10 minutes to perform and patients don't need general anesthesia. 

Dr. Tiffany Jessee of Suncoast Bariatrics in St. Petersburg says she is the first surgeon to do the procedure in the Bay Area. She said the Orbera device is left in place for six months, and then removed using the same type of endoscope.

The inflated balloon takes up space in the stomach, helping patients feel full. 

PHOTOS: Click on the picture to see the actual device being inserted

Jessee said while the balloon is designed to reduce food intake, she said it isn't a magic bullet, but a tool. Patients must also participate in a year long, comprehensive weight loss program, including dietary counseling. 

On Tuesday, Mary-Laurel Book became the first Bay Area patient to get the balloon since its approval. She said she's battled weight losses and gains her entire life. When she heard about the new option, she was sold.

"Because it's temporary, that was it for me. That's what was very important," Book said.

Jessee believes that the procedure will appeal to many people.

"There are a lot of patients that are just scared to undergo an invasive procedure. But this is also going to be great as a bridge to get patients down 20 to 40 pounds before an orthopedic procedure. Perhaps they need a knee replacement or a hip replacement," Jessee continued.

Book hopes it will jumpstart a lifestyle change that will last a lifetime.

"This is a tool that's going to help me get to the goal that I want to have, and that's to be healthy and to be fit.  That's what I'm looking for," Book added.

The procedure costs between $5,000 and $7,000, and is not covered by health insurance. Jessee said at Suncoast Bariatrics, the price includes the balloon, procedure, and all follow-up care for one year. 

Risks of the procedure are rare and include balloon rupture, erosion or blockage of the stomach. It's approved for adults over age 18 with a body mass index of 30 or greater.

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