Capsule Endoscopy

What is a capsule endoscopy?

Capsule endoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure to examine the inside of your small bowel using a pill-sized capsule that transmits video pictures wirelessly.

What happens during a capsule endoscopy?

The capsule contains a camera, light source, batteries and transmitter and is small enough to swallow. As the capsule passes through your stomach and small bowel, it transmits over 80,000 color images. These are recorded onto a small data-recorder that you carry around with you. The capsule is squeezed through the small and large bowel by the normal action of peristalsis and passes out of the body in the feces.

How long does a capsule endoscopy take?

You will need a short appointment to set the capsule on its way and be fitted with the data recorder, and then you are free to walk about and relax, including leaving the hospital. You will need to return to the endoscopy unit after 4 to 5 hours which is usually how long it takes for the procedure to be completed. The data recorder is then taken for analysis and you are free to go home. The capsule is usually passed out the next day and does not need to be collected.

Why might you need a capsule endoscopy?

  • To investigate the cause of iron deficiency anaemia when gastrointestinal bleeding is suspected.
  • To diagnose Crohn’s disease of the small bowel.
  • To detect benign and malignant small intestinal tumours.
  • To evaluate coeliac disease (particularly those cases that aren’t responding to treatment) and other malabsorption disorders that may lead to chronic diarrhoea and weight loss.
  • To find out whether you have a medication-related small bowel injury (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs] can cause this).
  • To diagnose other small bowel abnormalities that need further investigation.

Benefits of capsule endoscopy

Unlike more traditional investigations, capsule endoscopy does not involve exposure to potentially harmful radiation. It is also comfortable, as the capsule is easily swallowed, so you don’t need an anaesthetic or sedative.

Importantly the key findings of multiple clinical trials show that capsule endoscopy is significantly better for examining the small intestine for a broad range of indications compared to:

  • Small bowel enteroclysis and barium follow-through
  • CT scanning
  • MRI scanning
  • Push enteroscopy
  • Ileoscopy.

How do you prepare for a capsule endoscopy?

Preparation usually involves only attention to reducing your food intake, but some patients benefit from having a bowel preparation.

  • On the day before the procedure, you can eat something up to midday but then take only clear fluids (water, tea without milk) until 10pm and then you must fast overnight.
  • Once in the endoscopy unit you swallow the capsule with water early in the morning. You must then not eat or drink until the capsule nurse says that you can.

Unwell after your capsule endoscopy?

Capsule endoscopy is very safe and rarely causes after-effects, but if you experience any of these problems, please seek medical advice and contact us (see below) urgently:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting.