A camera popping out of a capsule in front of an abstracted intestine shape background.

What's a Capsule Endoscopy?

As technology advances, the medical establishment keeps coming up with new ways to survey your gastrointestinal tract. This is an exciting time to be a patient with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis. We really have no idea what might be around the bend!

Capsule endoscopy for IBD

One of the newest medical procedures in the field of gastroenterology is the capsule endoscopy. As the name implies, this procedure involves swallowing a large pill, or capsule, with a camera on it. If you ever wished that others would know exactly what is going on inside of you at all times then this is your opportunity!

For, unlike a colonoscopy, which only scopes your colon, and at times a few feet of your terminal ileum (end of your small intestine), the capsule endoscopy covers your entire gastrointestinal tract. So it's a great diagnostic tool for IBD.

Admittedly, the whole idea of such a test is a bit creepy. I grew up using large VHS cameras that you had to lug around in a large case and that weighed a ton. Even in college when I made 16mm films, and used a Bolex camera, with the tripod and various other makeshift dollies, a camera was something I always considered lugubrious and unwieldy.

Certainly, it never seemed something I would just pop in my mouth like an olive. Anyway...

Getting a capsule endoscopy was easy

Other than swallowing it, which can be a bit tricky since the pill is kind of large, this procedure is a cinch.

You don’t have to sit in an MRI machine for an hour and listen to weird noises while feeling claustrophobic. There is no odd white barium substance to drink. There is no colonoscopy prep such as Miralax and Dulcolax that have you running to the bathroom a hundred times in a night. Literally, the whole thing is just swallow the pill and wait.

I just wore a belt while the PillCam did its work

After you swallow the pill, you are given a heavy belt resembling a military-style ammunition-carrying apparatus. You can wear this under your clothes, and if I recall correctly, it can be a tad cumbersome. Still, it is no trouble at all really, and all you have to do is wait till the pill moves through your GI tract.

My doctor told me I could do whatever I wanted for a few hours. That day, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While admittedly, given the belt under my clothes, I was a bit worried other museum-goers might look at me funny, everything went off without a hitch.

Yep. I was looking at Egyptian ruins and paintings by Van Gogh while doctors were analyzing my internal organs. Far out, no?

Capsule endoscopy results

At a designated time you return to the office so they can remove the belt. Your doctor will look at the imagery and, most likely at a later date, give you an opinion on your current condition. 

While the imaging with this new procedure is not as clear as a colonoscopy, the opportunity to see your entire digestive system offers an advantage other tests do not. Another positive aspect of the capsule endoscopy is the risks are lower than for many other medical procedures. And for some, a capsule endoscopy can be key in getting diagnosed.

In sum, if your doctor suggests you try a capsule endoscopy for your Crohn's or ulcerative colitis, I suggest you go for it. In my case, it didn't reveal major new pertinent information. Still, it ruled out various potential problems, which was helpful in itself. Thanks for reading, and, as always, feel free to comment below.

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