A capsule endoscopy is a diagnostic test. Healthcare providers use it to look for bleeding and tumors, mainly in your small intestine. Your healthcare provider gives you a capsule to swallow. The capsule has a tiny camera and a light. It takes pictures of your digestive tract and records the pictures for your healthcare provider to review. You then pass the capsule in your stool (poop).
A capsule endoscopy is a test healthcare providers use to look for problems in your digestive tract. It’s especially good at finding issues in your small intestine (small bowel). For this test, you swallow a capsule that’s about the size of a large vitamin tablet. The capsule has a transmitter, light and at least one tiny camera. Some capsules have more than one camera.
As the capsule moves through your digestive tract, the camera takes about 10,000 pictures. Your healthcare provider looks at the pictures and checks for bleeding, tumors and other abnormalities inside of your small intestine.
The capsule leaves your body with your feces (poop), usually in less than a day. You can flush the capsule down the toilet. A capsule endoscopy is a safe, non-invasive procedure. It allows your healthcare provider to see areas of your intestines that other diagnostic procedures might miss.
Children and adults can have this procedure. If your child can’t swallow a pill, your healthcare provider can insert the capsule endoscopically (by inserting a long, thin tube down their throat). Your healthcare provider may recommend a capsule endoscopy if you or your child has symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) problems, including:
Symptoms of these conditions and other bowel problems include:
For this procedure, your healthcare provider gives you a capsule that’s about the size of a vitamin. Inside the capsule is a light, a transmitter and at least one tiny camera. You swallow the capsule with water (just like you would take a pill) and then return to your daily activities.
Your healthcare provider will give you a small recording device to wear. They may attach wires from the device to your skin on your chest or abdomen, or they may give you a wireless device that attaches to a belt. The device receives pictures from the capsule’s transmitter and stores them so your healthcare provider can review them later.
Over the next several hours:
Before a capsule endoscopy, you should:
You won’t be able to feel the capsule traveling through your digestive tract. After swallowing the capsule, you should:
Your healthcare provider may tell you to remove the recording device after several hours, or they may remove it for you when you return for a visit. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully. If you disconnect or remove the recording device before the test is complete, you could damage or erase the images.
Complications from a capsule endoscopy are rare. Sometimes, the capsule gets stuck in a part of your intestine that’s narrower than the rest of your intestines (stricture). This complication can happen in people who’ve had bowel surgery, inflammation or a tumor in the past.
If you aren’t sure if the capsule has passed, you may need an X-ray or CT scan to see if the capsule is still in your body. A capsule that doesn’t leave your body can cause a bowel obstruction, which can be serious. Healthcare providers do endoscopic surgery to remove capsules that don’t leave the body naturally. Endoscopic procedures use a long, thin, flexible tube and tiny tools.
A capsule endoscopy spots bleeding and other problems in your digestive tract. It’s one of the only tests that helps your healthcare provider examine your whole small intestine. Other diagnostic procedures (such as an endoscopic ultrasound) use a thin, flexible tube with a camera. But the tube can only reach the first six feet of your small intestine.
During a capsule endoscopy, the capsule travels through your entire digestive system. It covers more distance than a tube. The capsule can take pictures of your whole digestive tract, including your hard-to-reach small intestine.
Most test results are ready in about a week. Some results may take longer, though. Your healthcare provider will contact you to discuss your results and any follow-up procedures or treatments.
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have signs of an obstruction. These include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A capsule endoscopy is a safe, non-invasive procedure for children and adults. Your healthcare provider may order this test if you have signs of inflammatory bowel disease or other problems with your digestive system. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions before the test. And don’t tamper with or remove the recording device unless your healthcare provider says you should. After the procedure, call your healthcare provider if you have abdominal bloating, pain or nausea.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/06/2022.
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