Capsule Endoscopy (cont.)
Dennis Lee, MD
Dr. Lee was born in Shanghai, China, and received his college and medical training in the United States. He is fluent in English and three Chinese dialects. He graduated with chemistry departmental honors from Harvey Mudd College. He was appointed president of AOA society at UCLA School of Medicine. He underwent internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
In this Article
- What is capsule endoscopy?
- What are the limitations of capsule endoscopy?
- What type of diseases can be diagnosed with capsule endoscopy?
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
What is capsule endoscopy?
Capsule endoscopy is a technology that uses a swallowed video capsule to take photographs of the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. For capsule endoscopy, the intestines are first cleared of residual food and bacterial debris with the use of laxatives and/or purges very similar to the laxatives and purges used before colonoscopy. A large capsule-larger than the largest pill-is swallowed by the patient. The capsule contains one or two video chips (cameras), a light bulb, a battery, and a radio transmitter. As the capsule travels through the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, it takes photographs rapidly. The photographs are transmitted by the radio transmitter to a small receiver that is wornon the waist ofthe patient who is undergoing the capsule endoscopy. At the end of the procedure, approximately 24 hours later, the photographs are downloaded from the receiver into a computer, and the images are reviewed by a physician. The capsule is passed by the patient into the toilet and flushed away.
What are the limitations of capsule endoscopy?
While the capsule provides the best means of viewing the inside of the small intestine, there are many inherent limitations and problems with its use, the most important of which is thatthe capsuledoes not allow for therapy. Other problems include:
- Abnormalities in some areas of the intestine are missed because of rapid
transit of the capsule and blurred, uninterpretable photographs.
- At times, transit is so slow that the capsule examines only part of the
small intestine before the battery fails.
- If abnormalities are discovered that require surgical resection or
further investigation, it may be difficult to determine where in the small
intestine the abnormality is and thereby help direct therapy.
- If there are narrow areas due to scarring (strictures) or tumors in the
small intestine, the capsule can get stuck in the narrow area and cause an
obstruction of the intestine that requires surgical removal of the capsule.
(For this reason, in patients who are suspected of having a stricture, a
self-dissolving, dummy capsule is swallowed first. If the dummy capsule
sticks, it can be seen on an x-ray of the abdomen and the location of the
stricture determined. Because it dissolves with time, however, the
obstruction will resolve without surgery, and the real capsule will not be
- Finally, reviewing the tens of thousands of photographs is very time consuming for the conscientious physician.
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