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Video Capsule Endoscopy

By Walter W. Chan, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine;Director, Center for Gastrointestinal Motility, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy, Harvard Medical School;Brigham and Women's Hospital

Video capsule endoscopy is a procedure in which the person swallows a battery-powered capsule. The capsule contains one or two small cameras, a light, and a transmitter. Images of the lining of the intestines are transmitted to a receiver worn on the person’s belt or in a cloth pouch. Thousands of pictures are taken. Video capsule endoscopy is especially useful for finding hidden bleeding in the digestive tract and problems on the inner surface of the small intestine, which is an area that is difficult to evaluate with an endoscope. It does not work as well in the large intestine, but this area is not difficult to evaluate with an endoscope. People usually pass the capsule in their stool after about 12 hours, and some people do not notice it. The capsule does not have to be retrieved and is flushable. If people do not notice the capsule has passed, doctors may do x-rays or a computed tomography scan to see whether it is still in the digestive tract. Rarely, the capsule may be stuck in the digestive tract and doctors may need to do endoscopy or surgery to remove it.

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