What is Capsule Endoscopy?

Capsule endoscopy is a wireless technology used to explore regions of the small intestine that cannot be seen by other types of gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy procedures.

The capsule, no larger than a vitamin pill, contains a tiny camera, light, battery and radio transmitter that is encased in a tiny plastic shell. The patient swallows the capsule, also known as a "pill cam". As the capsule descends through the digestive tract, pictures are taken and recorded on a sensor device worn on the patient's abdomen.

At the end of the process, approximately 24 hours later, the capsule is passed naturally and painlessly during bowel elimination. The images retrieved from the recorder are then reviewed by physicians and can reveal evidence of a number of GI disorders and diseases.

Why capsule endoscopy procedures are performed:

GI capsule endoscopy is performed in order to better diagnose diseases that may affect the small intestine, an area of the digestive tract that cannot normally be accessed by other diagnostic tools. Capsule endoscopy helps avoid more invasive procedures and can detect the following diseases and disorders of the small intestine:

  • Cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Polyps
  • Obscure gastrointestinal bleeding

What To Expect

How to prepare for a capsule endoscopy procedure:

When preparing for the procedure, a patient needs to provide the physician with a complete medical history, a list of current medications being taken, and disclose whether or not they have a pacemaker or other electromedical device. The physician asks if there are any issues that may impact the procedure such as trouble swallowing, allergies or medical conditions. After it has been assessed that it is safe to proceed with the test, a patient can prepare in the following ways:

  • Have nothing to eat or drink for approximately 12 hours before the procedure to ensure bowels are clear
  • Discontinue any medications prior to the procedure
  • Bowel cleansing may be suggested prior to the procedure
  • Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing

What to expect during a capsule endoscopy:

The procedure itself is painless, safe and easily tolerated.

A sensor device, used to record the transmitted images from the camera capsule, is attached to the patient's abdomen with an adhesive belt and will remain there for approximately 8 to 12 hours. After the sensor is attached, the patient is instructed to swallow the capsule with a glass of water. The capsule's smooth surface makes it fairly easy to swallow, similar to a large vitamin pill.

Patients can go about their day as the recorder captures pictures from the camera capsule. Patients may carry out normal activities, including very light food and liquid intake, but should not exercise during the 8 to12 hour timeframe. At the end of the day, the sensor device and belt are removed.

What to expect after a capsule endoscopy:

After the procedure, patients may exercise and resume taking regularly prescribed medications unless a physician instructs otherwise. The camera capsule is disposable and will pass painlessly and naturally during bowel elimination within 24 to 48 hours of the procedure.

Risks and Outcomes

Risks associated with capsule endoscopy:

Complications associated with the procedure are rare and capsule endoscopy is known to be a safe, non-invasive, reliable diagnostic test. However, as with any procedure, complications can arise. It is possible for the capsule to become lodged within the body, which may require surgery to have it removed.

It is important to be aware of symptoms that may be caused by obstruction such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Chest pain
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