The small intestine is part of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). It is approximately 20 feet long and is the site where most digestion takes place.
A standard endoscope may be used to examine abnormalities of the small intestine such as tumors and bleeding. However, these endoscopes may only reach the first 3 to 6 feet of the bowel. Often times, the abnormality is located in the remaining 14 to 17 feet. But with video capsule endoscopy, doctors can examine hard-to-reach tumors or view distant intestinal bleeding through dynamic video taken of the bowel.
Video capsule endoscopy is a noninvasive procedure where a computerized capsule is used to view the entire length of the small intestine. The capsule is about the size of a vitamin and contains a transmitter, a battery, a color video camera, and an LED light source. The capsule is sealed and resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. The pill takes two pictures per second as it travels via muscle contractions along the GI tract. Distant sites in the tract may reveal a tumor or bleeding from the intestinal wall, which can be more accurately identified. Sensors on the patient’s abdomen send these images to a receiver worn on the waist. After eight hours and over 50,000 images, the sensors and receiver are removed. The images can then be downloaded to a computer where they are viewed as a video and examined by a doctor. The capsule is not reusable and many people do not realize they have passed the capsule when it is eventually excreted with waste.
Detailed dietary instructions are given to the patient prior to this procedure. It is important to avoid areas with strong magnetic fields and to discuss potential complications with your doctor.