How a Capsule Endoscopy Works

Endoscopy is used almost daily in different medical contexts. Laparoscopic surgery and colonoscopy are both common types of endoscopy procedures that you might recognize, as well as arthroscopy (joints) and cystoscopy (urethra and bladder). What you may not be familiar with is the newest addition to the endoscopy family: capsule endoscopy. Capsule endoscopy involves using a wireless pill-sized camera to take images and record the inside of your gastrointestinal tract during its journey through your body.


As of yet, the best applications for this type of endoscopy are to help diagnose disorders of the esophagus and the small intestine. Prior to this type of technology, endoscopy was limited in parts of the small intestine. The colonoscopy, which is inserted into your rectum, is not long enough to let your doctor see the small intestine. Likewise, the esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EDG for short), which is inserted in your mouth to help your doctor see the tissues of the esophagus, doesn't reach into the last two sections of your small intestine. This camera pill could help doctors diagnose and see disorders of the small intestine more clearly to include:

Although there is a type of camera pill specifically branded for taking images inside the colon, it is not yet approved to join the market in America. The colonoscopy remains the gold standard of endoscopic screening exams for colon cancer.

For now.

How Does It Work?

The camera pills being marketed for this use are about the size of a multivitamin. Under medical supervision, you are fitted with small sensors that are strategically placed on your skin around your abdomen and a recording device is worn at the waist. You will swallow the pill with a glass of water and then you are then released to go about your usual activities, with some dietary restrictions per your doctor's recommendations.

You might need to refrain from eating for a few hours, so talk to your doctor before the exam if you are diabetic or have special needs.

One of the most appealing aspects of this procedure is its simplicity. As the pill makes its journey down your digestive tract, it wirelessly transmits images back to the recording device for the duration of the procedure. There is nothing that you must do, other than wear the recorder and the sensors for about eight to 10 hours, or as long as your doctor instructs. The procedure should be painless, which means you won't be able to feel the capsule as it travels through your intestines. Once the capsule's trip is completed, you should pass it out with a normal bowel movement. You do not need to watch for it -- or retrieve it -- once the camera passes out of your body in your stool. It is constructed as a single use, disposable, device.

Preparing for the Test

Your bowels will need some form of a bowel preparation prior to the test. You might not have to complete a full bowel prep, as you would for a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, but you may still have to fast or restrict your diet to liquids prior to the test time.

Pay close attention to your doctor's instructions, as similar to the colonoscopy, if your bowels are not prepped right, the test results may not be accurate.

Insurance Covers This?

Make sure to check with your insurance prior to having this test. Many major insurance companies have not yet written a policy to cover the capsule endoscopy. Although you do have the option to pay out of pocket, talk with your doctor and insurance company first to see if this is something that might be covered. 


American College of Gastroenterology. (n.d.). Small Bowel Bleeding. Accessed online February 20, 2015.

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. (n.d.). Understanding Capsule Endoscopy. Accessed online February 18, 2015.

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