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Capsule endoscopy is a medical procedure that involves diagnosing the digestive tract for any problems. The procedure uses a small wireless camera, which is placed inside a vitamin-size capsule. This capsule is given to the patients to swallow and as the capsule moves through the digestive tract, the camera present inside provides multiple pictures of the inside of the digestive tract. These images are then transmitted to a recorder worn by the patient on the waist.

This method also helps the doctor see the inside of the small intestine. Typically, it is hard to diagnose issues of the small intestine. Capsule endoscopy is an advanced version of the traditional method, which involved inserting a long, flexible tube mounted with a video camera inside the throat of the patient and through the rectum to get a clear view of the digestive tract.

Purpose of a capsule endoscopy

Capsule endoscopy can be used to diagnose all conditions related to the digestive tract. Doctors may recommend capsule endoscopy to diagnose any of the below conditions:

Gastrointestinal bleeding: A capsule endoscopy may be recommended to detect the cause of gastrointestinal bleeding, especially the unknown cause of bleeding in the small intestine.

Inflammatory bowel diseases: A capsule endoscopy can also be advised to the patient to detect any inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease. This procedure can also diagnose affected areas in the small intestine.

Diagnose cancer: The capsule endoscopy procedure can also be used to detect any tumours in the small intestine of the gastrointestinal tract.

Identify celiac disease: This method can also be used to diagnose and monitor the reaction of the body’s immune system to gluten intake.

Examine the esophagus: Esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Capsule endoscopy can be used to detect any problems with the esophagus, such as abnormal obstructions, enlarged varices, etc.

Check for polyps: A capsule endoscopy can also be recommended for patients that have a risk of polyps in the small intestine due to family history or an inherited syndrome.

In other cases, capsule endoscopy can also be suggested a medium confirm the diagnosis or to provide a clear view of the concerned issue when other diagnostic tests such as X-rays, etc. have failed to provide the required information.

Preparation for a capsule endoscopy

To prepare for the capsule endoscopy, the doctor will advise the patient to not drink or eat anything at least 12 hours before the procedure. This will help to keep the digestive tract clear and hence, produce clearer images. In some patients, the doctor might also advise taking a laxative before the procedure for easier flushing out of the small intestine. These precautions improve the overall results of the procedure. Moreover, the patient can also be asked to avoid certain medications to support the success of the technique.

In most cases, the patients are asked to swallow the capsule and carry on with their general daily activities. However, strenuous exercises or heavy weight lifting is not permitted. In case of an active job, the decision about returning to normal activity on the same day should be made by the doctor.

On the particular day of the procedure, the doctor will place some adhesive patches attached to the abdomen. Each of these patches has an antenna along with wires that are connected to a recorder. In some devices, there are no patches required.

The patient also wears a recorder around the waist. The camera placed inside the capsule sends images to the antenna patches placed on the abdomen. These patches, in turn, provide data to the recorder, which collects and stores the information for further analysis.

The patient is given the capsule to swallow once the recorder is connected to the antenna patches. The capsule is to swallowed wit water to allow smooth transportation through the digestive tract. After the capsule is swallowed, the patient should not feel any effects. The patient is discharged the same day and is allowed to resume normal activities with rare precautions.

However, for drinking liquids, the patient must wait for another 2 hours after the procedure. Post four hours, the patient can also eat some light food or snacks, as advised by the doctor. The capsule takes about 8 hours to provide the right assessment it can also be done sooner if the capsule exits the body before that. However, for patients that do not flush out the capsule within two weeks after the capsule endoscopy, immediate medical attention may be required.

Risks of a capsule endoscopy

Typically, capsule endoscopy is a very safe procedure, with fewer risks. But it can have certain rare risks such as lodging of the capsule in the digestive tract. Generally, this capsule is supposed to exit the body within several days via an ordinary bowel movement.

However, the risk is higher in people that have existing health issues such as the presence of a tumour, Crohn’s disease, or previous surgery in the particular area. These conditions tend to narrow the digestive tract structure, making it harder for the capsule to exit the body.

Moreover, if the patient experiences any abdominal pain or is more prone to narrowing of the intestine, the doctor may advise a CT scan to check for narrowing before administering the capsule endoscopy procedure.

That said, for cases, where the capsule has now passed via bowel movement but is not causing any symptoms, the doctor would advise allowing more time to the capsule to pass. But in situations, where the capsule shows signs of bowel obstruction, the doctor may have to remove the capsule at the earliest to avoid further complications. This can be done by surgery or with the help of traditional endoscopy.

Overall, capsule endoscopy is a very safe and effective method to diagnose conditions of the digestive tract.

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