Doctors have been fitting gastric bands to overweight patients since the mid-1980s and it is now the most common form of weight loss surgery carried out in the UK.
Usually performed using laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, the operation takes between 30 minutes and an hour and involves dividing the stomach into two sections. An inflatable gastric band is placed at the top to create a pouch that fills up quickly and empties slowly through a small gap - called a stoma - into the lower section. The contents of the stomach then passes normally through the rest of the digestive system.
Adjustments can be made by altering the size of the opening between the upper and lower parts of the stomach. This is done by injecting fluid (saline) into the hollow gastric band that is connected by a tube to a reservoir placed beneath the skin during surgery, usually at the lower end of the breast bone.
The procedure effectively puts an end to binge eating as it is uncomfortable to eat anything but very small meals. Eating to excess can cause vomiting and pain.
A major advantage is that this procedure is reversible and does not permanently alter the anatomy of the stomach or intestines. Because the process of digestion is unaffected, the procedure should not result in vitamin or nutrient deficiencies. As with any program or procedure, weight loss varies. About one in five people lose less than 25% of their original weight which would indicate the operation has failed. Most, however, lose at least 70 per cent of their excess weight and for them it is an effective answer to a serious weight problem.
Experts consider it to be a relatively safe operation but there are risks associated with any form of surgery so it is important to understand the benefits and the disadvantages before you commit to the surgery.