Capsule Endoscopy (Pill-Cam)

What Is a Capsule Endoscopy?

A capsule endoscopy (also called a pill-cam) is a non-invasive, pain-free investigation of the small bowel. It involves swallowing a small plastic ‘pill’ that contains a tiny camera, which takes photos as it travels through your stomach and small intestine. The images are wirelessly transmitted to a data recorder (that you wear around your waste) that your doctor will then use to review.

small capsule,pillcam

Why Is a Capsule Endoscopy Performed?

The capsule endoscopy is most commonly used to try and identify the cause and location of bleeding that was unable to be found at gastroscopy and colonoscopy.

How Do I Prepare for a Capsule Endoscopy?

It is essential that your stomach is completely empty prior to the procedure. Thus, you will be asked not to eat and drink on the day of the procedure. You can have only a light dinner the night before and then nothing to eat or drink for 8 hours prior to your capsule endoscopy.

What Will Happen on the Day?

After you register at reception, you will be fitted with a recording belt and the data recorder (that is placed in a small satchel across the shoulder). You will then be asked to swallow the capsule with a sip of water. After that, you can go about your daily activities before returning 8 hours later to have the data recorder removed. You may drink clear liquids 2 hours after swallowing the capsule and be allowed to eat food 4 hours after swallowing the capsule.

What Happens After My Capsule Endoscopy?

The capsule is single use only and does not need to be retrieved. It usually passes naturally through your stool after 1-2 days and can be safely flushed down the toilet.

The information retrieved will be downloaded onto a computer and interpreted by your gastroenterologist who will then provide a recommendation about further treatment.

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects?

Capsule endoscopy is a very safe procedure and is generally very well tolerated by most patients. Because the capsule contains a special coating, it is easy to swallow and patients rarely experience side effects.  

In a small minority of people, the capsule is ‘retained’, meaning it does not completely pass through the small intestine. This is typically caused by an abnormal narrowing or blockage within the intestine. If this occurs the capsule can be removed during an endoscopy procedure or surgically, which also allows for treatment of the blockage at the same time.  If you do have a history bowel obstruction, please inform us, and a dissolvable capsule will be used prior to the pill cam to minimize the risk of a ‘retained’ pill cam.

In a small proportion of patients, the capsule is slow to pass through the small intestine and an x-ray is requested after 2 days to check that the capsule has passed. Because the capsule contains tiny batteries, it is not MRI compatible, and you should never have an MRI scan until its passage is confirmed.