What is a capsule endoscopy?

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Medical procedures are sometimes a little difficult to decode in terms of their names – especially when you start delving into the different forms those procedures can take. If your GP or doctor has talked about a capsule endoscopy with you, or are simply interested in the procedure, then here’s a breakdown of what it consists of and some answers to questions you may have.


Capsule endoscopy explained

A capsule endoscopy is a painless procedure used by doctors to take a look at your small bowel. Also known as a video capsule endoscopy, a tiny disposable camera the size of a large pill is given to the patient to swallow – sometimes called a ‘pillcam’.

This capsule-sized camera sends thousands of pictures to a data recorder which will be worn on the patient’s waist, which the doctor can then look through to get a comprehensive idea of what’s going on inside your small bowel.


Why would you need a capsule endoscopy?

There are multiple parts of the small bowel your doctor might want to take a look at – the duodenum, jejunum, or the ileum.

These areas of the bowel can’t always be reached using other endoscopy methods or colonoscopy procedures, and so using this method proved to be an effective alternative to getting a visual of the different areas of your digestive tract.


What is a capsule endoscopy used to diagnose?

Your doctor could suggest that you undergo a capsule endoscopy in order to:

  • Find a cause of gastrointestinal bleeding if other methods haven’t revealed the root problem.
  • Diagnose areas of inflammation in the small intestine linked to inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease.
  • Check for tumours in parts of the digestive tract which could be cancerous
  • Assist in diagnosing celiac disease by monitoring for immune reactions to gluten consumption

A doctor could also use a capsule endoscopy to examine your oesophagus, screen for polyps linked to syndromes you may have inherited, or as a form of follow-up testing if other forms of imaging prove to be inconclusive.


Capsule endoscopy preparation

If you’re due to go for a capsule endoscopy, then you’ll receive a list of instructions from your doctor or hospital on what you can and cannot do prior to the procedure. You will also be provided with some laxative medicine in order to empty your bowels prior to the capsule endoscopy.

The day before your capsule endoscopy, you’ll need to fast from lunchtime onwards and only drink clear liquids, such as water and tea – so long as they’re without milk and sugar.

You won’t be able to eat anything on the day of your capsule endoscopy, and will only be able to drink water.

In terms of any medication that you take, you should inform your doctor around what you’re taking and why. They will be able to provide you with specific instructions on when you should take any regular medications so they have a minimal impact on the procedure.


How accurate is a capsule endoscopy?

The capsule camera captures thousands of images as it travels through your body, providing a near complete picture of your digestive tract.

Sometimes there can be minor issues with the transmission of images between the camera and the receiver worn by the patient, such as the battery running out before it completes the journey, or the images aren’t clear.

If this happens, then your doctor may recommend further testing which may be administered via other methods depending on what data was able to be gathered from your capsule endoscopy.


Are there any potential complications or risks of a capsule endoscopy?

The majority of people who have a capsule endoscopy experience no complications at all during the procedure.

The capsule itself should pass through your body unimpeded, but if there is any blockage or your concerned that you haven’t passed it yet then you can let your doctor know, who may then recommend an x-ray to check if it’s still inside your bowel.

Some patients may experience issues with the laxatives before the procedure if they’re quite strong, as they can result in nausea and dehydration. However, this should pass without issue once you stop taking them. Other patients may have difficulty swallowing the capsule but you will be asked about this before you start the procedure.


Ramsay Health Care and Gastroenterology

Endoscopic procedures are now a more routine service required by healthcare providers, which is why Ramsay Health Care have built up their independent sector treatment centre (ISTC) offering so patients can gain rapid access to the services they need.

If you’re referred to us for a private capsule endoscopy then you will be provided with a fixed price at your initial consultation from one of our gastroenterologists, meaning there are no surprise fees later down the line. If you’d like to organise a consultation, then you can get in touch with us here.

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