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Capsule endoscopy

Find out about having capsule endoscopy, which is a test that looks at the inside of your bowel.

A capsule endoscopy is a fairly new test to look at the inside of your small bowel. It is not available at all hospitals. You may need to travel to a specialist centre to have it.

You swallow a small disposable camera which is inside a capsule. The capsule is the size of a large pill. The camera takes thousands of pictures as it travels along your gut. The pictures are transmitted wirelessly to a data recorder that you wear on a belt around your waist.

Why you might have a capsule endoscopy

You may have this type of test if your doctor needs to look closely at the inside of your small bowel (jejunum and ileum). It examines the part of the bowel that other tests such as endoscopy or colonoscopy might not always reach.

Diagram showing the parts of the small bowel

Preparing for your capsule endoscopy

Before the test, your nurse will give you some medicine to empty your bowel. Usually you take one dose of medicine the day before the test and a second dose on the morning of the test. If you take iron tablets your nurse will ask you to stop taking them one week before the test.

You will need to:

  • not eat any solid food after lunch on the day before the test
  • drink only clear fluids for the rest of the day before the test
  • not eat or drink anything on the day of the test (before the test starts)

What happens

At the hospital

You go to the outpatient department or the endoscopy unit on the morning of the test. You are at the hospital for about an hour.

First a technician attaches a data recorder to a belt around your waist. Then a nurse, doctor or technician will ask you to swallow the camera which is inside a capsule. This is about the size of a large vitamin pill and you swallow it with some water.

The nurse tells you when you can drink again and when you can have a light snack.

Usually you should not eat or drink for 2 hours after the start of the test. Then you can drink clear fluids. After 4 hours you can have a light snack. And then you shouldn’t eat anything until after the test has finished.

During the test you should avoid physical exercise that makes you sweaty and also avoid bending or stooping.

At home

Once you have swallowed the capsule and spoken to the nurse you can leave the hospital.

The camera takes pictures for about 8 to 10 hours and switches itself off. As it passes through the gut the camera sends all the photos that it takes to the data recorder. Your nurse might ask you to check the blue light is flashing on the data recorder.

After your capsule endoscopy

You need to return the data recorder to the hospital as soon as possible, usually the morning after the test. A technician downloads the pictures from the data monitor to a computer. A doctor then looks at the pictures.

The camera is disposable. You pass it naturally in your poo (stools) when you go to the toilet.

Possible risks

A capsule endoscopy is a very safe procedure. But your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctors make sure the benefits of having a capsule endoscopy outweigh any possible risks.

Very rarely, the capsule might get stuck inside your body. Tell your doctor if you are worried that you have not passed the capsule. They might take an x-ray to check if it is still there.

Getting your results

It may take some days or up to 2 weeks for the medical team to look at all the pictures. They send the results to your own doctor.

If you have not heard about the result within a couple of weeks after your test, you can ring your doctor’s secretary to check if they are back.

Waiting for results can make you anxious. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can speak to for information and support if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

More information

We have more information on tests, treatment and support if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Information and help

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