A capsule endoscopy is a non-invasive way to investigate gastrointestinal bleeding, unexplained abdominal pain and conditions such as Crohn's disease. The procedure involves swallowing a pill-sized camera inside a capsule (the PillCam), which takes pictures of the small bowel.
A referral letter from a consultant or GP is required before booking any diagnostic investigation.
The small bowel is fairly difficult to investigate using traditional methods. You might need to have a capsule endoscopy if an endoscopic examination of your colon or stomach has failed to determine the cause of your symptoms, which may include obscure gastrointestinal bleeding and abdominal pain.
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.
If you've been diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia (low red blood cell count), you may have a capsule endoscopy to help identify the cause. One common cause of anaemia is bleeding within the gut, which may be from the stomach, large bowel or small bowel. The bleeding may not always be obvious or visible, so tests like a capsule endoscopy may be helpful.
A capsule endoscopy could help to diagnose these conditions and to rule out more serious diseases, especially if you have visible bleeding from your back passage, which should never be ignored. The Pillcam can also be used to examine possible abnormalities of the intestine that show up on abdominal scans. It is used to monitor patients with refractory coeliac disease and intestinal polyps.
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You will need a referral letter from a consultant or GP before booking any diagnostic investigation.
You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
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Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.
We understand that having a test can potentially be a time of anxiety and worry. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.
During a capsule endoscopy, you will swallow a capsule that contains a disposable, electronic, pill-sized camera, which takes continual pictures - about 100,000 over the course of 8 hours - during its passage through your gastrointestinal tract. The camera is about the size of a large vitamin pill (11mm x 26mm).
The images are recorded and stored in a reader that is worn on a belt around your waist. The capsule has an eight-hour battery life and usually passes naturally through your body with no need for retrieval.
During your appointment, which will last approximately half an hour, you will be connected to the equipment and instructed to swallow the capsule with a glass of water. You will be discharged and encouraged to go about your daily routine. You can usually drink two hours after swallowing the capsule, and have a light snack after a gap of four hours.
You will be asked to return the belt and reader either that evening or the following morning. The images will be downloaded onto a computer and viewed as a video stream by your consultant gastroenterologist.
You will be able to leave hospital after the procedure. Typically, results should be available to your referring doctor within three working days.
The Pillcam is disposable and will pass out of your body with a normal motion. You shouldn't experience any pain.
Even after you’ve left hospital, we’re still looking after you every step of the way. After a capsule endoscopy we will provide you with all the advice on what to do and not to do.
On rare occasions, complications following a capsule endoscopy can occur. The main risk associated with the procedure is intestinal obstruction, where the capsule becomes lodged in a narrowed area of the small bowel, and so it is not recommended for people with known or suspected gastrointestinal obstruction.
Capsule endoscopy is not recommended for pregnant women, and special precautions need to be taken if you have a cardiac pacemaker.
Your consultant will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.
If you have any questions or concerns, we're here to help.
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The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.