New procedure helps people lose weight by adding to stomach

FRESNO, Calif. (KGO) -- A new procedure to help people lose weight adds to the stomach, instead of shrinking it. This technique doesn't change anything physical, except for the weight.

Diane Navarro looks forward to her regular follow-ups with her doctor after she had success with the gastric balloon. "I found this to be the best choice for me because I didn't want to have surgery," she said.

The 52-year-old Fresno professional tried countless diets to get healthy but her busy lifestyle led to weight gain again and again.

"I had twins in my early 20s and just the lifestyle of being a mom and a work environment, I didn't always have the best eating choices," she said.

Navarro admits she had trouble knowing when to stop eating. "I didn't give a darn about portions actually. I felt like I was eating all the time," she said.

Then a post on her Facebook feed about the Orbera gastric balloon caught her eye and sent her to Athenix of Fresno. Dr. Kevin Ciresi says the procedure isn't a procedure at all, but can help people lose between 25 to 50 pounds.

"It's meant as a weight loss aid. It's not going to cause you to lose weight. It helps most people in the process of losing weight because they've got a balloon in their stomach that makes them feel full," Ciresi said.

In an animation provided by Orbera, the patient is sedated while the balloon is inserted through the mouth. Once in the stomach, it's filled with saline until it's about the size of a grapefruit.

The gastric balloon is typically left in the stomach for about six months. That's about how long it would take stomach acids to start breaking down the material.

Ciresi says a rupture is very rare but if it did happen, only the harmless saline solution would be released into the body and then absorbed.

At the end of six months, the balloon is deflated then removed. But while it's in the stomach, the patient eats less, loses weight and gets one-on-one group coaching to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"This is really helping to change your habits. This is not the answer, you have to change your habits," Ciresi said.

That's what finally worked for Navarro. "I now know what full feels like and when to stop," she said.

One of the techniques she learned was to take pictures of plates of healthier meals to remind herself about balanced portions. "That's so you can go back and say OK, at one point in time I was satisfied with this amount of food," she said.

Navarro lost 30 pounds and continues to see smaller numbers on the scale. The gastric balloon is not covered by insurance and costs about $8,000, including the lifestyle coaching before and after the process.

Athenix says the annual out of pocket medical costs for an obese person can reach $5,000, making the balloon, ultimately, a money and health saver.

Navarro says the balloon helped change her body and mind. "I've learned to actually be the one in control," she said.

Click here for more information about the Orbera gastric balloon.
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