A capsule containing a tiny camera that takes pictures of the lining of the intestines is one tool doctors have to help detect polyps, cancer, and sources of bleeding in the small intestine that current tests cannot always find. The procedure is called capsule endoscopy.
How It Works
You swallow a small capsule that contains a camera. As the capsule is digested, it passes through your small intestine while the camera snaps pictures twice every second. The capsule is eventually excreted naturally, without you feeling anything unusual.
As the capsule moves through the GI tract, it sends signals to a data recorder worn on a belt around your waist. You wear the recorder for about eight hours as you go about your daily activities. The images stored on the data recorder can be downloaded to a computer and viewed by a physician.
Swallowing a capsule with a camera may seem like a science fiction plot but its happening now. Here is some information about the parts that make up this fascinating capsule.
The capsule that contains the tiny camera is about the size of a large vitamin. It moves smoothly and painlessly through your digestive system, and is excreted in a bowel movement.
The capsule sends data to sensors placed on the abdomen. The sensors send the information to a data recorder worn on a belt around the waist. This recorder receives data containing the pictures of the entire digestive system.
Image data from the data recorder is downloaded to a computer equipped with special software Physicians can then view the images as a video clip or as individual photos on the computer monitor.
How This Technology Helps Doctors and Patients
In many cases, doctors rely on endoscopy to view the small intestine. This involves inserting a thin, lighted tube with a camera, down the throat, through the stomach, and into the small intestine. However, an endoscope cannot reach all of the 20-foot-long small intestine. Capsule endoscopy can provide pictures of the entire length of the small intestine.
This helps to find problems in the small intestine that may not have been previously be seen.
The capsule results are used along with other endoscopic and radiological tests to help make a diagnosis. It is not a replacement for these tests.
Here is a small list of conditions that may be checked out with the capsule:
Safety, Effectiveness, and the Future
The capsule is safe. There may be minor side effects, but major problems are rare. Very rarely, the capsule can stuck in the digestive track and surgery may be required to remove the capsule.
Studies done on the effectiveness of the capsule have also been positive, especially when it is used to evaluate sources of bleeding. Capsule endoscopy has been found to be equal to or better than some other tests commonly used.
Some evidence indicates that capsule endoscopy may also be effective in evaluations of the colon, but most of the evidence so far is conflicting. More research is being done on the effectiveness of capsule endoscopy in routine colon procedures.
The capsule may not be used on patients with:
- Cardiac pacemaker
- Implanted electromagnetic devices
- Intestinal blockage
- Narrow small bowel
- A abnormal connection between the bowel and another organ
Capsule endoscopy is a peek into exciting medical innovations that may keep us healthy without certain hassles of endoscopies or colonoscopies.
- Reviewer: Brian P. Randall, MD
- Review Date: 11/2012 -
- Update Date: 11/21/2012 -