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Capsule Endoscopy

Capsule endoscopy is a test done to take pictures of the digestive tract. It uses a capsule with a tiny camera in it. The capsule is swallowed like a pill. As the capsule travels through the digestive tract, it takes pictures. These pictures are sent to a recorder that is worn outside the body. The capsule passes out of the body through the stool within a few days. Capsule endoscopy is most often done to check for problems in the small bowel (intestine). These problems include bleeding and tumors. The test can also help diagnose Crohn’s disease. This is a condition that causes inflammation, sores, and narrowing of the bowel.

Before the test

Outline of human figure showing digestive system and pointing out esophagus, stomach, small bowel, large bowel, and rectum. Inset of capsule. Arrow at mouth shows capsule being swallowed. Arrow at rectum shows capsule exiting body through rectum.
The capsule is a tiny camera that takes pictures as it moves through the digestive tract.

  • Let your doctor know of any medications you’re taking. This includes vitamins, herbs, and over-the-counter medications. Certain medications may need to be stopped for a time in the days before the test. In addition, let your doctor know about prior surgeries that could cause the capsule to be stuck.  

  • Switch to a clear liquid diet 16 hours before the test.

  • Don’t eat anything starting from 12 hours before the test.

  • You may be instructed to do a bowel cleansing or use a laxative. This may be needed to help clear your bowels before the test.

  • Follow any other instructions given by your doctor.

During the test

The test is done in a doctor’s office or hospital:

  • You’ll be asked to raise your shirt.

  • Small, sticky, round patches are placed on the skin over your abdomen. The patches contain antennas that are attached to short wires (leads).

  • The wires are then plugged into a data recorder. The recorder is attached to a belt that is worn around your waist.

  • Once the recorder is confirmed to be working, you’ll be given the capsule to swallow. (In rare cases, the pill may be placed in the small bowel with the help of an endoscope. This is a thin, flexible tube that can be inserted through the mouth and down into the digestive tract. Your doctor will tell you more about this, if needed.) The capsule works by sending pictures to the recorder as it moves through your stomach and small bowel.

  • After you swallow the capsule, you’re usually allowed to leave the facility. You can drink clear liquids after 2 hours, and you can eat food or take medications after 4 hours. Be sure to follow any other instructions given by your doctor. For instance, you may be told not to do certain activities if they can affect your test results.

  • You will be instructed when to return to your doctor’s office or the hospital. All of the equipment is then removed.

  • To prevent complications, do not schedule an MRI exam or be near the MRI device until the capsule has passed out of your body.

  • The capsule is passed out of your body through your stool. If this does not occur within 3 days, let the doctor know right away. Treatment may have to be done to remove the capsule. Your doctor will tell you more about this, if needed.

After the test

Once the pictures are reviewed, your doctor will go over the results with you. This is usually within a few days. If the pictures were blurry or unclear, the test may need to be done again.

Risks and complications

There is a small chance that the capsule will not pass out of the body. In such case, the capsule is most likely stuck in the bowels. Procedures such as surgery or endoscopy will be needed to remove the capsule.

Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/24/2014
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