Capsule Endoscopy

By Mayo Clinic Staff
Pill camera used in capsule endoscopy

Patients Swallow Computerized Cameras in Vitamin-sized Capsules To Produce Images Detecting Gastrointestinal Disorders

Mayo Clinic Arizona was one of the first centers in the U.S. to unveil a breakthrough procedure to detect unexplained bleeding and other problems

In a procedure worthy of a scene in a futuristic movie; a patient at Mayo Clinic swallows a plastic capsule containing a disposable, miniature camera in order to visualize his digestive system.

Eight hours later, a Walkman-sized digital recording device and a collection of electronic sensors are released from the patient's waist and torso, and a team of physicians view high-resolution color images that reveal a previously undiagnosable cause for bleeding in the patient's digestive tract.

But it's not a futuristic movie.

Mayo Clinic Arizona was only the third center in the United States, and the only center west of New York, to unveil Capsule Endoscopy—a procedure that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 1, 2001.

"In addition to learning about identifying diseases, we will also learn more about normal anatomy and physiology," says David Fleischer, M.D., chair, Gastroenterology, at Mayo Clinic Arizona. "This procedure is the medical equivalent of space exploration of the moon. We are now able to see things that have never been seen before."

Approximately the size of a large vitamin, the capsule includes a miniature color video camera, a light, a battery and transmitter. Images captured by the video camera are transmitted to a number of sensors attached to the patient's torso and recorded digitally on a recording device similar to a Walkman that is worn around the patient's waist.

The patient swallows the capsule with a drink of water, and within approximately eight hours, after the capsule has progressed through the small intestine, the recorder is removed from the patient and the information captured in it is downloaded onto a computer for examination.

Although not a substitute for Gastrointestinal (GI) Endoscopy, a procedure in which long flexible black tubes with lights are inserted through the mouth, down the throat and into the upper or lower digestive tract, Capsule Endoscopy serves as an additional diagnostic tool for patients who have been suffering from GI disorders, such as bleeding, without a definitive diagnosis. It can also be used to evaluate conditions of the small bowel that cause diarrhea, pain or weigh loss, such as Crohn's Disease that involves the small bowel.

"Capsule endoscopy is a breakthrough technology because it enables physicians to look at the entire 30 feet of the small intestine, not just the four to five feet that can be visualized with other types of endoscopy," says Jonathan Leighton, M.D., chair, Endoscopy at Mayo Clinic Arizona. "Now that we can identify these conditions that traditional endoscopy could not visualize, we can more accurately and aggressively determine the course of treatment for our patient."

"Capsule Endoscopy is one of the most revolutionary advances in the GI field in over 50 years," adds Dr. Fleischer. "It means that patients who were previously difficult to diagnose will be better treated because we can view parts of the small intestine that were impossible to view and evaluate."

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