Capsule endoscopy is a procedure that uses a tiny wireless camera to take pictures of your digestive tract. A capsule endoscopy camera sits inside a vitamin-size capsule you swallow. As the capsule travels through your digestive tract, the camera takes thousands of pictures that are transmitted to a recorder you wear on a belt around your waist.
Capsule endoscopy helps doctors see inside your small intestine — an area that isn’t easily reached with more-traditional endoscopy procedures. Traditional endoscopy involves passing a long, flexible tube equipped with a video camera down your throat or through your rectum.
Capsule endoscopy has also been approved for screening the colon for polyps in those unable to complete a colonoscopy. But how and on whom capsule endoscopy will eventually be used is still being determined because better alternatives are available. As technology improves, capsule endoscopy of the colon may become more common.
Capsule endoscopy has also been approved to evaluate the muscular tube that connects your mouth and your stomach (esophagus) to look for abnormal, enlarged veins (varices). It’s rarely used for this purpose because there has been limited experience with it and traditional upper endoscopy is widely available.
Why it’s done
Your doctor might recommend a capsule endoscopy procedure to:
- Find the cause of gastrointestinal bleeding. If you have unexplained bleeding in your digestive tract, capsule endoscopy can help find the cause.
- Diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. Capsule endoscopy can reveal areas of inflammation in the small intestine.
- Diagnose cancer. Capsule endoscopy can show tumors in the small intestine or other parts of the digestive tract.
- Monitor celiac disease. Capsule endoscopy is sometimes used in monitoring this immune reaction to eating gluten.
- Screen for polyps. People who have inherited syndromes that can cause polyps in the small intestine might occasionally undergo capsule endoscopy.
- Do follow-up testing after X-rays or other imaging tests. If results of an imaging test are unclear or inconclusive, your doctor might recommend capsule endoscopy to get more information.
Capsule endoscopy is a safe procedure that carries few risks. However, it’s possible for a capsule to become lodged in the digestive tract rather than leaving your body in a bowel movement within several days.