Capsule endoscopy for small bowel

A capsule endoscopy looks at the inside of your bowel. It’s also called a video capsule endoscopy (VCE).

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

This test isn't available at all hospitals. 

There are two types:

  • a capsule endoscopy that looks at your small bowel
  • a colon capsule endoscopy that looks inside of your large bowel (colon)

The main difference between these two capsules is the small bowel capsule contains one camera. The colon capsule contains 2 cameras (one at either end). 

The information on this page is about a capsule endoscopy for the small bowel. For information about a colon capsule endoscopy click on the below link.

Why do I need a capsule endoscopy?

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

Diagram showing a capsule endoscopy

Preparing for your capsule endoscopy

Before the test, you must stop eating for some time. 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're told when you can 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:

  • don't eat anything after lunch
  • drink only clear fluids for the rest of the day before the test, this includes black tea and black coffee

On the day of the test:

Do not eat anything until your appointment, you can only drink water.

What happens

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. 

There are two ways you may have the test.

The most common way is to wear a belt with built in sensors inside it.

Photograph showing a capsule endoscopy

Or the nurse or technician may put some sticky pads (sensors) on your chest and stomach area. They then attach a data recorder to a belt that you wear around your waist. Make sure you don't use any body lotion or sprays to these areas.

Diagram showing sensors and data recorder - capsule endoscopy

Once this is in place your nurse, doctor or technician will ask you to swallow a capsule. This has the camera inside. You swallow it whole with some water.

Your 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. You should also try to avoid bending or stooping.

At home

Once you have swallowed the capsule and have all the instructions, you can leave the hospital.

You return later that afternoon to check if the capsule has passed into the large bowel. 

The camera takes pictures as it passes through your bowel. It sends all the photos that it takes to the data recorder. You need to check the blue light is flashing on the data recorder.

You're 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 or belt once it has finished, and return the data recorder to the department. 

If the capsule has not passed into your large bowel when you return later that afternoon, you will need to keep the sensors and data recorder on. The data recorder will continue to record until the battery ends (about 12 to 14 hours from the start). You then return the data recorder to the hospital the morning after the test.

After your capsule endoscopy

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 when you go to the toilet.

Possible risks of having a capsule endoscopy

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're 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 the doctor who arranged the test. 

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.

  • 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 to 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.

Last reviewed: 
07 Sep 2022
Next review due: 
07 Sep 2025

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