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Video Capsule Endoscopy: About This Test

The small intestine, with detail of the video capsule moving through it

What is video capsule endoscopy?

Video capsule endoscopy is a test that allows your doctor to look for bleeding in your small intestine. It can also help find tumours or other problems there. You swallow a pill-sized capsule that contains a small camera. The camera takes pictures of your small intestine. It lets your doctor view parts of the small intestine that can't be easily reached with other tests.

Why is it done?

  • This test lets your doctor see the lining deep inside your small intestine. Other tests don't reach this far.
  • Your doctor can look for the cause of bleeding in the intestine.
  • The test may help your doctor diagnose a problem like an ulcer, a tumour, or inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease.

How do you prepare for the test?

  • Your doctor will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the test.
  • Your doctor will tell you if you need to drink a special liquid or take a tablet to clean out your digestive system.
  • Tell your doctor about any medicine that you take and medical devices that you have in your body and if you are unable to swallow pills.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant.

How is the test done?

  • You will be asked to swallow a capsule with a sip of water. The capsule is about 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) long. It contains a tiny video camera. You won't have a tube inserted down your throat, as is done in some other endoscopies. You won't need to stay in the hospital. And you won't need pain medicine.
  • There are different ways that information from the video capsule can be recorded. Some capsule sensors attach to the body with tape. Some sensors are in a belt that you wear. Other capsules store the information and need to be collected when they leave the body in stool.
  • You will be awake while the capsule moves through your digestive system. You won't feel the capsule moving. As the capsule travels through your system, the camera will take pictures and send them to the recording tool.
  • After the test has started, you may be able to leave the doctor's office for a few hours. You may be able to go about your daily activities during the test. Avoid bending and any vigorous activity. Your doctor will tell you when to come back to the office.
  • You may be able to drink clear liquids about 2 hours after you swallow the capsule. You also may be able to eat a small snack about 2 hours after that.
  • During the hours of the test, you may use the toilet to urinate. If you pass stool, you may need to collect the capsule. You will get instructions on which type of capsule is being used for your test.
  • After about 8 hours, any sensors that were used can be removed. The pictures in the recording tool can be looked at later on a computer.
  • The capsule should pass out of your body in your stool in a day or two. If it doesn't, your doctor may have you get an X-ray to see where it is. You will get instructions on which type of capsule is being used for your test and if you need to collect it from your stool.

How long does it take?

The capsule records pictures for 8 hours or longer. You will get instructions on when to return to the office depending on which type of capsule is being used for your test.

What are the risks?

  • Video capsule endoscopy is generally safe. In very rare cases, the video capsule could get stuck in the small intestine.
  • Your doctor may also tell you to avoid having a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test during this time until the capsule passes in your stool.

What happens after the test?

  • Your doctor should have the results of the test in a week or two.
  • Depending on the results, you might need other tests.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

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