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What is the new NHS weight loss pill that turns into a balloon?

The swallowable balloon, developed by Allurion, could help obese patients lose a significant amount of weight. (Allurion)
The swallowable balloon, developed by Allurion, could help obese patients lose a significant amount of weight. (Allurion)

The NHS will offer a new treatment for weight loss, with the first two patients having received it in Somerset.

The new, non-surgical procedure involves a balloon that patients swallow in the form of a capsule or large pill. It was approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in 2020, but has just become available on the NHS.

It comes as the UK continues to deal with growing obesity rates. Britain has higher levels of obesity than major European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

Obesity is estimated to cost the NHS about £6.5 billion every year, as it has been linked to other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

But it is hoped that the new treatment can help patients with severe obesity to lose weight and reduce the risk of disease.

Here’s how it works:

What is the new NHS weight loss drug?

The weight loss “pill”, developed by Allurion, is a capsule that contains a balloon. Patients swallow it alongside a thin tube.

Once swallowed, an X-ray will be taken to confirm the capsule is in the right position in the stomach. After that, the balloon is filled with 550ml of water via the thin tube.

A second X-ray will check if the balloon is full and positioned correctly in the stomach, and the tube is removed.

A diagram of how the gastric balloon by Allurion will appear in the stomach once it has been inflated with water. (Allurion)
A diagram of how the gastric balloon by Allurion will appear in the stomach once it has been inflated with water. (Allurion)

Experts say the procedure that 15 minutes, and does not require an endoscopy or anaesthetic, nor does it require patients to stay in hospital for a longer period of time.

What does the balloon do?

Once it is within the stomach and filled with water, the balloon will take up room in the stomach.

This acts as an appetite suppressant, as patients will not feel the need to or be able to eat as much before they feel full.

Professor Richard Welbourn, consultant bariatric surgeon at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said that patients are expected to “lose 10% to 15% of their weight in four months, which improves quality of life and makes patients healthier”.

He added that the procedure is “better for the NHS and a much-improved experience for our patients”.

How long does the balloon stay in the stomach?

Once the procedure is done, the inflated balloon stays in the stomach for four months.

After that period of time passes, a time-activated release valve automatically opens. This allows the water-filled balloon to empty and it will later pass naturally through the gastrointestinal tract.

Following the treatment, Allurion provides a nutrition and lifestyle programme to help keep patients on track and to maintain their weight loss.

How effective is the procedure?

Reports suggest that patients managed to keep 95% of their weight off for a year after the treatment.

However, any long-term weight loss maintenance depends on patients’ ability to stick to their new lifestyle, according to Nuffield Health.

Long-term weight loss can help improve obesity-related diseases such as hypertension and mobility issues.

Professor Welbourn highlighted that it can help people with Type 2 diabetes and said: “People with severe obesity are prone to diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, which can be reversed with weight loss.”

Who is eligible for the weight loss treatment?

According to the NHS, in order to be eligible for weight loss surgery or other weight loss programme the health service offers, you must meet certain criteria.

These include:

  • Having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 of more, or a BMI between 35 and 40 and a serious condition that might improve if you lost weight

  • You’ve tried all other weight loss methods but struggle to lose weight or keep it off

  • You agree to long-term follow-up after the surgery, including making healthy lifestyle changes and attending regular check-ups

  • You’re fit and healthy enough to have surgery under general anaesthesia

  • You have been receiving or will receive treatment from a specialist obesity team

Watch: Bake Off's Laura Adlington reveals new body confidence after deciding against weight loss op

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