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Our guts are more than a source of a lifesaving “hunch,” but it is the system in our body that’s responsible for delivering much-needed nutrients from the food we consume to our cells.

When problems arise with our digestive health, it can cause several symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, heartburn, vomiting, or nausea.

While some symptoms can be managed at home, some – including severe vomiting, high fever, blood in the stool, black stool, and severe stomachaches – may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs prompt medical attention.

When it comes to issues with the GI tract, it’s best to consult a gastroenterologist, a specialist trained to perform diagnosis and treatment for gastrointestinal issues.

While gastroenterologists can perform several procedures to diagnose gut health issues, capsule endoscopy is becoming the preferred option for many patients because of its non-invasive nature.


What is a Capsule Endoscopy?


To fully understand what capsule endoscopy is, let’s first talk about endoscopy.

The most common medical imaging procedures for the gastrointestinal tract or GI tract are x-ray, endoscopy, and colonoscopy.

Some people often interchange ‘endoscopy’ and ‘colonoscopy,’ but the two have big differences.

Endoscopy is a procedure that looks into the upper GI tract (that is until the upper part of the small intestine, also called the duodenum).

The flexible tube for examination is customarily inserted in the mouth.

Colonoscopy, on the other hand, is a procedure that looks into the lower GI tract or the large intestine, colon, and rectum.

In a colonoscopy, the flexible tube with the light and camera is inserted through the rectum.

Having a procedure that involves inserting a tube in your body can be quite terrifying, especially if it is your first time undergoing such an invasive procedure.

This is precisely why more patients prefer capsule endoscopy.

Capsule endoscopy is a form of endoscopy, but instead of a flexible tube with the light and camera inserted through the mouth, a capsule is swallowed.

The capsule is about the size of a large vitamin pill that already has a camera within. It captures images as it moves from the mouth to the small intestine.



When is Capsule Endoscopy Needed?


Doctors require this minimally invasive procedure to come up with an accurate diagnosis.

Also, gastroenterologists use the captured images to rule out possible conditions for:


Gastrointestinal Cancer

This involves the abnormal growth of cells at the GI tract that can potentially invade or spread to other organs in the body.

Capsule endoscopy can detect the onset or beginning of GI cancer.


Crohn’s Disease

It’s the chronic inflammation of the GI tract. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is yet to be known.


Celiac Disease

It is an autoimmune disease that causes patients’ bodies to react negatively to gluten which is a type of protein found in cereals, wheat, rye, and barley.

When Celiac patients consume gluten, their body reacts by damaging or attacking the lining of the small intestine. Celiac disease is hereditary.



Ulcer comes in the form of open sores on the lining of the stomach or small intestine. This is commonly caused by bacteria.

Capsule endoscopy can also be recommended to patients to further examine the cause of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Small bowel tumors
  • Unexplained anemia

While capsule endoscopy cannot be used to treat cancer or chronic GI diseases, it can help prevent these conditions from worsening through early detection.

It is a way to protect yourself especially when you are experiencing pain or symptoms, or you are at risk of mentioned diseases due to genetics.

You can undergo capsule endoscopy in any gastroenterology clinics. In Cape Town, you can visit Dr. Eduan Deetleefs’ clinic for consultation and undergoing tests like capsule endoscopy.



Advantages of Capsule Endoscopy


Capsule endoscopy offers several advantages over traditional endoscopy:

It is a minimally invasive procedure, so it is less likely to cause discomfort.

It also does not require sedation.

Potential complications are also fewer.


Disadvantages of Capsule Endoscopy


While capsule endoscopy is usually a very safe procedure, it still has some downsides to it, including the following:

Although complications are very rare, it is still a possibility especially when you have pre-existing conditions.

Therefore it’s so important to be upfront to your gastroenterologist about your medical history.

The images taken during the capsule endoscopy also tend to be poorer in quality compared with images taken during traditional endoscopy or colonoscopy.

The capsule may also miss some lesions in the GI tract if it was facing the wrong way.

It is possible that a series of procedures will be required by your gastroenterologist to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Although the risk is low, there is a possibility that the capsule will not pass through your body and get stuck in the GI tract.

If your gastroenterologist suspects as such, further investigations and procedures will be done to remove it.

If you want to discuss the possible risks of having a capsule endoscopy in detail, contact Dr. Eduan Deetleefs in Cape Town, South Africa.




What Happens During a Capsule Endoscopy?


The actual procedure starts with attaching adhesive sensors to your abdomen. A recording device will also be required to be worn around your waist.

You can choose to strap it on a belt to keep it intact. This recording device stores all the images that the camera will capture.

Then, you will be asked to swallow a capsule about the size of a large vitamin pill. You will be given a glass of water to help it push down.

Inside this capsule is a wireless camera that captures the images of your GI tract as it travels through.

Just like in swallowing ordinary pills, you will not feel the capsule coursing through the GI tract. The capsule is also typically out of the body through the stool within a day or two.


Preparing for a Capsule Endoscopy


If you decide to undergo a capsule endoscopy in Cape Town, your gastroenterologist will provide you a list of things to do as preparation.

Before anything else, it’s crucial to inform your doctor if you’re on some medications.

They need to know the medications you’re taking so they can advise you on how to safely prepare for your procedure.

For example, if you are on iron supplements, you will need to stop taking it a week before the date of the procedure.

You must also disclose to your doctor if you have difficulties in swallowing.

If you had abdominal surgery in the past, you need to tell the doctor if you have experienced intestinal or bowel obstructions.


Day Before the Procedure

 A clear and empty stomach will give the best viewing conditions for capsule endoscopy. Please refrain from eating foods with seeds.

Drink only clear liquids like water, lemonade without pulp, tea with neither milk nor cream, or any clear, transparent liquid drinks.

Ten hours before your scheduled capsule endoscopy in Cape Town, you will also need to fast. Do not eat or drink anything for the said duration.

If you are diabetic, you need to tell your gastroenterologist first so that you will be advised on how to fast and prepare for the capsule endoscopy.


Day of the Procedure

 After you swallow the capsule, you will not be allowed to drink for at least 2 hours and no food intake for 4 hours more.

You also need to avoid strong magnetic fields like metal detectors, amateur or ham radios, and other procedures like magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.

Avoid having intense physical activities like having a workout or running. Always keep the sensors and recording device dry and fitted.

If your procedure is scheduled in the morning, you may be asked to remain in the clinic during the entire endoscopy.

But this depends on your medical history. After about 8 hours that the capsule is inside the GI tract, the adhesive sensors and recording device will be removed. You may go home after this.

If your procedure is scheduled in the afternoon, you may leave the clinic but you must keep the adhesive sensors and recording device intact for the rest of the day.

You may remove it after about 8 hours. Go back to the clinic in the morning after to return the equipment.

Otherwise, you can make arrangements to have it delivered back to the clinic.


Days After the Procedure

 Right after you remove the adhesive sensors and recording device, you may return to your normal eating habits and physical activities.

You may also continue your medication if you have any. But again, MRI is not allowed for 1 month.

The results of your capsule endoscopy will be sent to your gastroenterologist in about a week. You may be scheduled for a follow-up check by then.

The capsule will naturally leave your system through the stool after 2-3 days. And don’t worry – you don’t need to retrieve it!

You may not even notice it being flushed down the toilet. All the images were already stored in the recording device.

If you experience any discomfort, chest or abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, trouble in swallowing, or fever, contact your doctor immediately.

Early detection of health problems is the key to increasing our chances for a full recovery. In many cases, it can even save lives.

If you are experiencing any gastrointestinal problems, or if you just want to monitor your gut health, please contact Dr. Deetlefs or his clinic in Cape Town, South Africa to schedule an appointment. 



The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.