Capsule Endoscopy

Outline of body showing gastrointestinal tract and path of capsule for 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 in a few days. Capsule endoscopy is most often done to check for problems in the small bowel (intestine) that are hard to see with a standard endoscopy or colonoscopy. 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

Tell your provider about any medicines you are taking. You may need to stop taking all or some of these before the test. This includes:

  • All prescription medicines

  • Over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen

  • Street drugs

  • Herbs, vitamins, and other supplements

Also before the test:

  • Tell your provider about any surgeries you’ve had before, that could cause the capsule to get stuck.

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

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

  • You may be instructed to do a bowel cleansing or use a laxative. This may be needed to help clear your bowels before the test.

  • Follow any other instructions from your provider.

During the test

The test is done in a provider’s office or hospital:

  • You’ll be asked to raise your shirt.

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

  • The wires are then plugged into a data recorder. The recorder is attached to a belt 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 your small bowel with the help of an endoscope. This is a thin, flexible tube that can be inserted through your 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 medicines after 4 hours. Be sure to follow any other instructions from your provider. For instance, you may be told not to do certain activities if they can affect your test results.

  • You will be instructed when to return to your provider’s office or the hospital. All of the equipment is then removed.

  • To prevent complications, do not schedule an MRI exam or go near the MRI device until the capsule has passed out of your body.

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

After the test

Once the pictures are reviewed, your provider 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 will not pass out of your body. In that case, the capsule is most likely stuck in your bowels. Surgery or endoscopy will be needed to remove the capsule.