News from the FDA/CDC

Safety alert for intragastric balloon systems

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Until causes of death are known, reserve judgment

As past chair of the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology, I have been closely following balloon-based obesity devices as they’ve entered the marketplace. The center has welcomed the introduction of these noninvasive devices that can be managed by GIs, and we’ve worked closely with device companies and the FDA for the past several years to ensure these devices were introduced to the market in a safe and efficient manner.

Dr. Michael L. Kochman

Dr. Michael L. Kochman

The FDA’s recent safety communication about the potential risks related to these devices is concerning, but it is not fully evaluated as to causation. The FDA report states “At this time, we do not know the root cause or incidence rate of patient death, nor have we been able to definitively attribute the deaths to the devices or the insertion procedures for these devices (e.g., gastric and esophageal perforation, or intestinal obstruction).”

We do not have enough information now to connect these recent patient deaths to these devices. That said, the FDA’s letter reinforces a few important points. Foremost, the fact that complications and adverse events can occur with any procedure. For physicians using intragastric balloons, each patient must be appropriately evaluated prior to the decision to place the balloon, especially for the potential risks of anesthesia and an endoscopic procedure. Patients must be monitored closely during the entire term of treatment, and following the procedure, in order to detect the development of possible complications, and each patient should be instructed to contact his or her physician immediately upon the onset of any unexpected symptoms.

Michael Kochman MD, AGAF, is the Wilmott Family Professor of Medicine, professor of medicine in surgery, gastroenterology division, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


The Food and Drug Administration announced a safety alert on Aug. 10, 2017, for liquid-filled intragastric balloon systems, as they have caused five reports of unanticipated deaths that occurred from 2016 to present in patients.

The cause or incidence of patient death is still unknown, and the FDA has not been able to definitively attribute the deaths to the devices or the insertion procedures for these devices. All five reports show that patient deaths occurred within a month or less of balloon placement. In three of the reports, death occurred as soon as 1-3 days after balloon placement. The FDA has also received two additional reports of deaths in the same time period related to potential complications associated with balloon treatment.

In February 2017, the FDA issued a letter to health care providers to recommend close monitoring of patients with liquid-filled intragastric balloon systems used to treat obesity for the potential risks of acute pancreatitis and spontaneous overinflation. Since then, the product labeling to address these risks has been revised.

The FDA continues to recommend that health care providers closely monitor patients treated with these devices for complications. Any adverse events related to intragastric balloon systems should be reported through MedWatch. The FDA will keep the public informed as new information becomes available.

Read the full safety alert on the FDA’s website.

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