About Capsule Endoscopy

Capsule endoscopy – commonly referred to as “pill cam”  – is a diagnostic procedure that enables your gastroenterologist to examine three portions of your small intestine using a tiny camera the size of a large vitamin pill. The video capsule is swallowed and as it travels through the body, images are sent to a data recorder worn on a waist belt.

Frequently Asked Questions about Capsule Endoscopy

Q. Why is capsule endoscopy performed?

A. When other diagnostic procedures have failed to determine the cause of recurrent or persistent symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, anemia or bleeding, capsule endoscopy helps your physician actually see what the reason may be for those symptoms. For some chronic gastrointestinal diseases, the pill cam can help evaluate the extent to which your small intestine is involved or to monitor the effect of therapeutics. Capsule endoscopy also can be used to obtain motility data, such as gastric or small bowel passage time.

Q. Is any preparation necessary before the procedure?

A. Yes. In general, for approximately 10 hours before the procedure, you cannot have anything to eat or drink. An empty stomach is essential so your physician has optimal viewing conditions. You will get specific instructions about when to start fasting and whether you need any medication, such as a mild laxative, prior to the procedure.

In addition, because the waist belt that records the video images has small sensors that attach to your skin, men must shave their chest and stomach area and all patients should shave their upper pelvic area.

Q. What happens the day of the procedure?

A. The morning of the procedure, you cannot have anything to eat or drink, and you should go to your appointment dressed in loose, two-piece clothing. First the sensors will be applied to your abdomen with adhesive pads and connected to the data recorder – the belt you will wear around your waist. Then you will swallow the pill cam capsule with a cup of water.

Q. What happens during the procedure?

A. The procedure lasts about right (8) hours and you do not have to stay at the physician’s office during that time. The data recorder, which is actually a small computer, will capture the images from the pill cam. You will be responsible for making sure the recorder is continuously working by checking a small blinking light and you will not be able to do anything strenuous, like bending over or lifting anything.

Q. Do I have to fast while I’m wearing the data recorder?

A. No. Approximately two hours after you swallow the pill cam, you can have clear liquids and after four hours, you can usually have a light snack unless your physician instructs you otherwise. After the eight-hour period is completed, most patients can return to their normal diet.

Q. What happens after the eight-hour period?

A. At the end of the eight-hour procedure, you will return to the physician’s office and the data recorder will be removed. The physician will then review the video images and compile the results. Results are generally ready in two to three weeks.

Q. Should I expect complications or side effects?

A. As a rule, most patients consider the test comfortable. Complications may occur, but they are rare when physicians who are specially trained and experienced perform the procedure. A potential risk could be retention of the capsule. Early signs of possible complications might include fever after the test, severe constipation, difficulty swallowing, increasing chest pain or abdominal pain. In any of these cases, the physician should be notified immediately.

Q. What happens to the capsule?

A. The capsule should pass through your body naturally in a bowel movement. If you can’t verify that the capsule has been excreted, it is common to have an abdominal X-ray to make sure. You should not undergo an MRI or get an MRI unless you are certain the capsule has passed.

This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or procedure.