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What Is a Wireless Capsule Endoscopy?

A wireless capsule endoscopy can be used to examine the small intestine.
Irritable bowel disease can be diagnosed using a wireless capsule endoscopy.
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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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A wireless capsule endoscopy is a diagnostic medical procedure which is used to explore the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, and colon. Wireless capsule endoscopy allows a patient to swallow a capsule in which is placed a mini video camera that records images of the digestive tract. The wireless capsule endoscope provides an important advantage over similar methods of digestive tract exploration, in that it can also be used to view the small intestine.

Before a patient swallows a wireless capsule endoscopy camera, he or she must undergo certain procedures, or take certain pills, to ensure the digestive tract is free of food and is as clean as possible. This is important because it ensures the camera is able to record clear images. To clean out the digestive tract the patient may be asked to use laxative or purgative pills, and undergo an enema.

During the wireless capsule endoscopy procedure the patient swallows a capsule slightly larger than those which are normally used for medication. Along with the mini-camera, the capsule contains batteries, a light bulb, and a radio transmitter. The unit records images as it moves through the digestive tract, and these are transmitted to a receiver which the patient wears while the capsule is working. The procedure will last around 24 hours, after which the photos are downloaded to a computer for review. Once the patient passes the capsule it is simply flushed away; capsules are not reused.

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Wireless capsule endoscopy can be used to diagnose a range of digestive system disorders. These include several different cancers, including small intestinal cancer, colon cancer, and other cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastric ulcers, and other irritable bowel diseases can also be diagnosed using this method.

Despite the usefulness of this procedure, the wireless capsule endoscope has some strong limitations and drawbacks. One of the most significant issues is that using this tool does not allow for therapeutic procedures to be carried out. During a standard colonoscopy, for example, a doctor can take biopsy samples if necessary, but this is not possible when using a wireless capsule endoscope.

Another distinct disadvantage is that the capsule moves slowly but constantly through the digestive tract under normal circumstances. This does not allow for a doctor’s need to look more closely in areas where signs of disease may be present. A related problem is that movement of the capsule may be too slow, and the batteries in the unit may fail before the capsule is able to examine the entire digestive tract.

Patients who have had surgery or a disease which may have caused internal scarring may be subject to an additional problem. The presence of scarring can cause the capsule to get stuck, particularly in the small intestine, which is much narrower than the rest of the digestive tract. In these cases patients are asked to swallow an empty capsule as a trial run to ensure the camera will be able to move through properly.

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