Capsule endoscopy

Spire Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Fordcombe, Kent offers an innovative, pain-free investigation called Capsule Endoscopy.

This uses an electronic, pill-sized photographic capsule that takes pictures of the small bowel (a section of the digestive tract) which cannot normally be viewed or examined without surgery.

Dr Laurence Maiden Consultant Gastroenterologists at Spire Tunbridge Wells Hospital says "This diagnostic facility is particularly beneficial to patients who display obscure bleeding that persists or recurs, as well as for detection of Crohn’s and Coeliac disease. It is a revolutionary pain-free device which enables us to see far more of the small intestine than ever more. Patients benefit as they no longer need to endure the discomfort of an endoscope, and we are able to offer a swift treatment programme.”

What is a capsule endoscopy?

A capsule endoscopy is a procedure used to examine the small bowel. It is a relatively new and non-invasive way of providing your doctor with visual images of your small bowel using an electronic, pill-sized, photographic camera inside a capsule.

The capsule is swallowed and takes pictures of the small bowel.  Since the small bowel is fairly difficult to investigate using traditional methods, the use of a capsule camera has helped to improve and simplify diagnostics in this area. For obscure GI bleeding for example, the 'diagnostic yield' of capsule endoscopy is usually considered to be much greater than that of any other current imaging procedure. 

Who should have a capsule endoscopy?

A capsule endoscopy is most commonly performed for obscure gastrointestinal bleeding and obscure abdominal pain. It is most commonly carried out after endoscopic examination of the colon or stomach fails to determine the cause of symptoms.

A person who has been diagnosed with anaemia (low red blood cell count) may have a capsule endoscopy to help identify the cause. One common cause of anaemia is bleeding within the gut. This may be from the stomach, large bowel or small bowel. The bleeding may not always be obvious - or visible - and therefore tests such as a capsule endoscopy may very helpful. Once the cause is identified, corrective treatment of anaemia is generally successful.

Pain, diarrhoea or constipation can be symptoms of underlying intestinal problems. Diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can cause inflammation (or even ulceration) in your bowel. A capsule endoscopy could be helpful as a diagnostic aid for these conditions, and to rule out more serious diseases - especially if you have visible bleeding from the back passage, which should never be ignored.

What does a capsule endoscopy involve?

Having a capsule endoscopy involves swallowing a pill-shaped camera that is approximately the size of a large vitamin pill (11mm x 26mm). This takes continual images during its passage down the small bowel. The images are recorded and stored in a reader that is worn on a belt around the patient’s waist. The capsule has an eight-hour battery life and then usually passes naturally through the body with no need for retrieval.

If you are undergoing this procedure you may be required to take a small amount of bowel preparation on the evening prior to the procedure. You will then attend the Spire Hospital the following morning. You will be connected to the equipment and then instructed to swallow the capsule. This first appointment lasts approximately half an hour, after which you will be discharged and encouraged to go about your daily routine. You can usually drink two hours, and have a light snack four hours, after swallowing the capsule. You will be asked to return the belt and reader either that evening or the following morning.

The images are then downloaded onto a computer and viewed as a video stream by your consultant Gastroenterologist. Results should be available to your referring doctor within three working days.

As with all medical procedures, there can be risks involved. The main risk associated with Capsule Endoscopy is intestinal obstruction where the capsule becomes lodged in a narrowed area of the small bowel and it is therefore not recommended for patients with known or suspected gastrointestinal obstruction. As with any other medical test, it is possible that Capsule Endoscopy will not identify the cause of symptoms and it is also not recommended for pregnant women.

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You can find out more about Capsule Endoscopy on our specalist capsule endoscopy page

© Spire Healthcare Group plc (2016)