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Capsule endoscopy

A capsule endoscopy looks 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 a capsule endoscopy

Preparing for your capsule endoscopy

Before the test, you usually have to stop eating for sometime before it. You'll have instructions on what to do and what you can eat and drink. You'll also need to take some medicine to empty your bowels (laxatives).

You can take your usual medicines as normal in the days leading up to the test. If you take iron tablets or non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen, diclofenac or celecoxib) your nurse will ask you to stop taking them one week before the test.

You'll be told when to take your regular medication on the day of the test. Contact your nurse or doctor about this if you have any other questions. 

Instructions vary slightly between hospitals but this is generally what happens. 

The day before the test:

  • stop smoking 24 hours before your appoinment
  • don't eat anything after lunch
  • drink only clear fluids for the rest of the day before the test
  • don't eat or drink after 10pm

On the day of the test:

Do not eat or drink anything until your appointment

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.

The doctor or nurse will explain the procedure to you and ask you to sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any other questions you may have. 

First, you'll have some sticky pads (sensors) placed on your chest and stomach area. So make sure you don't use any body lotion or sprays to these areas. A data recorder is then attached to a belt around your waist.

Then a nurse, doctor or technician will ask you to swallow a capsule which has the camera inside. 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. You will need to check the blue light is flashing on the data recorder.

You'll be told when you can start to eat and drink normally again. This is usually 8 hours after you swallowed the capsule. You can also remove the sensors once it has finished. 

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

The team caring for you will give you phone numbers to contact if you have any questions or problems after your test. 

A capsule endoscopy is a very safe procedure. 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.

If you develop tummy pain, vomiting or generally feel unwell follow the advice your team gave you and contact them.

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, contact the doctor who arranged the test.

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 a freephone number 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.

Last reviewed: 
03 Dec 2018
  • ESGE Guidelines on Small-Bowel Capsule Endoscopy (BSG Endorsed)
    British Society of Gastroneterology, 2015

  • Wireless capsule endoscopy for investigating of the small bowel
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2004

  • Guidelines on small bowel enteroscopy and capsule endoscopy in adults
    R Sidhu and others
    Gut, 2008. Volume 57, Pages 125 – 136

  • Small bowel capsule endoscopy. indications, results and clinical benefit in a university environment
    J Flemming and S Cameron
    Mediicine (Baltimore), 2018. Volume 97, Issue 14.

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