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Capsule Endoscopy

Capsule endoscopy is a test done to take pictures of the digestive tract. It uses a capsule with a tiny camera in it. The capsule is swallowed like a pill. As the capsule travels through the digestive tract, it takes pictures. These pictures are sent to a recorder that is worn outside the body. The capsule passes out of the body through the stool within a few days. Capsule endoscopy is most often done to check for problems in the small bowel (intestine). These problems include bleeding and tumors. The test can also help diagnose Crohn’s disease. This is a condition that causes inflammation, sores, and narrowing of the bowel.

Before the Test

Outline of human figure showing digestive system and pointing out esophagus, stomach, small bowel, large bowel, and rectum. Inset of capsule. Arrow at mouth shows capsule being swallowed. Arrow at rectum shows capsule exiting body through rectum.
The capsule is a tiny camera that takes pictures as it moves through the digestive tract.

  • Let your doctor know of any medications you’re taking. This includes vitamins, herbs, and over-the-counter medications. Certain medications may need to be stopped for a time in the days before the test.

  • Switch to a clear liquid diet 16 hours before the test.

  • Don’t eat anything starting from 12 hours before the test.

  • Use a laxative if you’ve been told to do so. This may be needed to help clear your bowels before the test.

  • Follow any other instructions given by your doctor.

During the Test

The test is done in a doctor’s office or hospital.

  • You’ll be asked to raise your shirt.

  • Small, sticky, round patches are placed on the skin over your abdomen. The patches contain antennas that are attached to short wires (leads).

  • The wires are then plugged into a data recorder. The recorder is attached to a belt that is worn around your waist.

  • Once the recorder is confirmed to be working, you’ll be given the capsule to swallow. (In rare cases, the pill may be placed in the small bowel with the help of an endoscope. This is a thin, flexible tube that can be inserted through the mouth and down into the digestive tract. Your doctor will tell you more about this, if needed.) The capsule works by sending pictures to the recorder as it moves through your stomach and small bowel.

  • After you swallow the capsule, you’re usually allowed to leave the facility. You can drink clear liquids after 2 hours. And you can eat food or take medications after 4 hours. Be sure to follow any other instructions given by your doctor. For instance, you may be told not to do certain activities if they can affect your test results.

  • After 8 hours, you’ll need to return to your doctor’s office or hospital. All of the equipment is then removed.

  • The capsule is passed out of your body through your stool. If this does not occur within 3 days, let the doctor know right away. Treatment may have to be done to remove the capsule. Your doctor will tell you more about this, if needed.

After the Test

Once the pictures are reviewed, your doctor will go over the results with you. This is usually within a few days. If the pictures were blurry or unclear, the test may need to be done again.

Risks and Complications

There is a small chance that the capsule doesn’t pass out of the body. This means it’s probably stuck in the bowels. Procedures, such as surgery or endoscopy, will likely be needed to remove the capsule.

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.