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Capsule endoscopy, or sometimes called pill cam, is a diagnostic medical procedure that can be used to take pictures of the inside of the digestive tract and diagnose and monitor diseases. 

Capsule endoscopy is a safe and convenient way to see what is happening inside your digestive system. 

Instead of using an invasive camera on a long tube that has to go through the mouth into the stomach, doctors can now use this new technology with no need for sedation. 

This makes it easier for people who are claustrophobic or have bad gag reflexes. The entire exam takes about two minutes and requires no fasting beforehand.

Let’s dig a little deeper on the topic and discuss the benefits, side effects and recovery time of having a capsule endoscopy done.



What is a Capsule Endoscopy?


Endoscopy is one of the modern options to diagnose and treat digestive system disorders and diseases.

Capsule endoscopy is a new procedure that uses advanced diagnostic technology to give doctors a detailed view of your digestive tract. 

The capsule endoscopy procedure is usually performed in two stages that involve two small pills, each about the size of a large vitamin. 

Also called pill endoscopy, they are swallowed to conduct an examination during gastroscopy. 

The capsules are equipped with diagnostic technology to take clear pictures of the inner lining of the oesophagus, stomach, or bowel using highly detailed pictures. 

To carry out this feat, they are fitted with miniature cameras and detectors for taking pictures and conducting tests at different intervals over the period of their journey through your gastrointestinal tract. 

The procedure is minimally invasive, and you won’t be required to stay overnight in hospital after this procedure. 

Your doctor will be able to view the findings directly on computer screens during your next appointment. 

A small wand is passed over the oesophagus and transmits the images and video to a central computer for interpretation by a physician. 


Why Would you Need a Capsule Endoscopy?


Are you a type 2 diabetic?

For those with a family history of cancer, a past cancer diagnosis, or a concern about latent cancer cells, capsule endoscopy is the most effective way to detect any abnormalities.

Studies have shown that patients who undergo capsule endoscopy are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer than those who do not.

If you have been thinking about it but have been reluctant to do so, start learning more reasons why you should get a capsule endoscopy as soon as possible:

  • Capsule endoscopy is the only way to detect Barrett oesophagus which very rarely causes any symptoms. 
  • It is also the most reliable way of detecting latent cancer cells in the body. 
  • It is an effective diagnostic tool for anyone who has had previous abdominal surgery,
    or who has a family history of cancer or carcinomas
  • Detecting the source of GI bleeding 
  • Helping to diagnose conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and ulcerative colitis 
  • Identification of polyps or tumours in the gastrointestinal tract 
  • Investigating abdominal pain

Capsule endoscopy is a simple, effective and painless procedure with fast reliable results.

The Advantages of a Capsule Endoscopy

The idea of a camera inside your body is not an easy one to swallow, but the advantages of this procedure are many. 

  • Capsule endoscopy provides an alternative to traditional endoscopic procedures. 
  • It can examine the small intestine, which can be hard to reach during an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy. 
  • Capsule endoscopy also detects intestinal abnormalities that do not show up on imaging tests such as CT scans or X-rays. 
  • Capsule Endoscopy provides limited preparation and no anaesthesia which makes this such a quick and convenient procedure.
  • The results are immediate and reliable.



What are the Side Effects of Capsule Endoscopy?


The most typical side effects of capsule endoscopy are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Gas Pain
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea

It is common to experience mild dizziness during the procedure that will subside after the examination is completed.

What are the Risks with Capsule Endoscopy?


Capsule endoscopy is painless and extremely safe.

The only potential complication is capsule retention. This means that the capsule gets stuck in the bowel. 

This risk is very low and happens on average in 1 out of every 100 people who do the test.

The risk is higher if you have had previous abdominal surgery or if you had symptoms that would suggest bowel obstruction.

The risk is also higher if you have Crohn’s disease.

In general, if the capsule gets stuck it means that there is a severe narrowing in the bowel, which will need an operation.

You should therefore not do a capsule endoscopy test if you are not prepared to have an operation if it is needed.


How to Prepare for the Procedure


Your small bowel needs to be clean before commencing the capsule endoscopy investigation.

Your bowel preparation the day before the capsule endoscopy consists of the following:

  • You must be on a clear fluid diet for 24 hours before the procedure.
  • Your normal breakfast can be eaten the day before the capsule endoscopy appointment.
  • This should be followed by plenty of clear fluids taken during the rest of the day.
  • Examples of clear fluids include Water, Energade or a similar alternative, clear juice (apple, grape), tea or coffee without milk (sugar is allowed), without any solids in or jelly (avoid red jelly). Clear, strained soup can be taken but no later than 1 pm.
  • The afternoon before the procedure, you should drink 1-litre Moviprep that has been prescribed.
  • Please be fasting from 8 pm on the evening before your capsule endoscopy procedure – this means no medication, fluids or solids of any kind from 8 pm until I meet you the following morning.
  • Take a second litre of Moviprep at 4 am the morning of the capsule endoscopy procedure, with plenty of water.

All of the above will be discussed and confirmed by your doctor prior to the procedure.



Recovery Time After a Capsule Endoscopy Procedure

Since the capsule endoscopy procedure involves the patient swallowing a pill that contains a tiny camera, it requires very little downtime. 

The pill is essentially just swallowed whole, so the patient only needs to rest for an hour or so before resuming their regular routine. 

They can also eat normally and resume normal activity thereafter.




GI Doc Cape Town is a practice founded to provide medical solutions in the area of gastroenterology.

Over the years, Dr. Eduan Deetlefs has earned the reputation of a trusted health expert providing consultative, diagnostic, and therapeutic endoscopic and related services to patients in Cape Town and beyond.

Should you experience any of the above symptoms or need any additional information regarding the above procedure, give Dr. Deetlefs a call at 021 551 8678.

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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.