Until recently, most hospitals offered three surgical weight loss options: gastric bypass surgery, vertical sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric band surgery. But now there’s a new, reversible procedure that provides an alternative for patients struggling with obesity.
Called the vBloc Neurometabolic Therapy System, this weight-loss option is different from other popular bariatric surgeries in that it doesn’t alter the size of the stomach. With vBloc, a vagal blocking device is implanted under the skin, like a pacemaker, which delivers an electrical pulse in the vagus nerve, reducing hunger and making the patient feel full. Approved by the FDA in 2015, Tufts Medical Center is the only hospital in Boston that offers this weight-loss option.
Sajani Shah, MD, Chief of the Division of Minimally-Invasive Surgery/Bariatric Surgery at Tufts Medical Center, was an investigator in vBloc’s clinical trial and now offers it to her patients.
“vBloc is not designed to replace bariatric surgery, but it’s a good option for people looking to lose 30 to 40 pounds,” she says. “It’s less invasive, and it’s good for people who don’t want the permanence of other surgical weight-loss options.”
Because vBloc doesn't permanently alter the digestive system, like gastric bypass or the vertical sleeve, it’s very appealing to some patients, she says. It’s also reversible: the device can be inactivated if a woman becomes pregnant, for example, and reactivated after she delivers.
Guidelines for use of the vBloc are similar to other bariatric procedures: patients must have a BMI of at least 35 with a related health condition, such as high blood pressure, or at least 40 without; must be at least 18 years old; and they must have tried other methods to lose weight without success.
“For patients that understand it’s just one of the tools that can help them lose weight, it works well,” Dr. Shah says.
The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) estimates that almost 200,000 bariatric surgery procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2015. Surgeons at Tufts Medical Center have performed over 4,000 bariatric surgeries, most of them laparoscopically— and these numbers are expected to grow.
As more and more people undergo surgical treatment for weight-loss, Dr. Shah says, the stigma around such procedures is going away.
“I think weight-loss surgery has become more accepted, and more people feel comfortable talking about obesity in general,” she says.
“Before it was very hush-hush; patients didn’t want to talk about it,” Dr. Shah says. “But now that they’ve had success and they see how it’s changed their lives, they aren’t ashamed of it.”
For more information on bariatric surgery, visit Tufts Medical Center’s Weight and Wellness Center.
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