Home Lifestyle Preventative What Do I Need to Know Before My PillCam Experience?

What Do I Need to Know Before My PillCam Experience?

A PillCam is a small camera, shaped like a pill capsule, that you swallow. It maps out your upper digestive tract—but what does that process look like?

If your doctor has recommended that you take the PillCam, you might have some questions on what the process is going to be like. Here’s everything you need to know on how to make it through the PillCam process.

How Does a PillCam Work?

Get Through the PillCam Process

A PillCam is precisely that: a pill camera. To explain it further, the PillCam SB is a small camera that is shaped like a pill capsule and is meant for patients to swallow. The PillCam is a recording device that can take pictures of your small bowel as a way to examine, diagnose, and monitor certain bowel diseases.

When you swallow the PillCam, the device will begin to move through your digestive tract. Once it travels down the tract, the tiny camera will take thousands of pictures of your small bowel. Your doctor will then evaluate the pictures to determine the state of your small intestine.

The PillCam SB is battery-powered and has its own source of light to help take clearer pictures. Additionally, the PillCam transmits images to a sensor belt. This means that, as it takes thousands of photos over the course of about 8 hours, it will send those images to a data recorder that a patient wears on a belt.

The PillCam continues to move through your small intestine, large intestine, and then naturally exits your body when you have a bowel movement. It’s common for patients to have difficulty pinpointing when the PillCam has left their body. However, rest assured that this is what it is made to do. It typically leaves the body about 10 to 48 hours after you swallow the PillCam.

If you have a history of small bowel obstruction, your doctor might order an x-ray to make sure that the PillCam is not still in your intestines if you do not see it pass through a bowel movement. Though rare, obstructions from the PillCam can occur and need to be treated immediately to prevent further harm.

Why Do I Need to Have a PillCam?

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There are many different symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that can prompt your doctor to suggest a PillCam. Most commonly, you might need a PillCam if you experience:

  • Stomach bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Unexpected weight loss or weight gain

A PillCam is most helpful to diagnose or monitor small bowel diseases. That being said, the PillCam images might reveal additional conditions such as:

However, a PillCam does more than just diagnose bowel diseases and other stomach conditions. Many patients with chronic issues like Crohn’s disease are able to monitor the health of their small intestine with a PillCam rather than needing to have annual (or more frequent) invasive procedures.

PillCam vs Scopes. Which is Better?

PillCam vs ScopesWhile the thought of going through a PillCam, otherwise known as a capsule endoscopy, can be frightening, it’s actually less invasive than many other methods of diagnosing conditions and monitoring your small bowel.

In the past, an upper endoscopy was the standard for finding and diagnosing small bowel conditions like Crohn’s disease. An upper endoscopy procedure involves a doctor inserting a flexible tube down the patient’s throat and through the internal workings of the body in order to examine any issues. This scope works similarly to the PillCam, as it uses light and a camera to transmit images that the doctor then examines as a way to diagnose or monitor bowel diseases.

However, one of the most noticeable differences between this procedure (or any scope, including colonoscopies) and the pillcam is that you will require sedation during an endoscopy. Sedation is used to keep you comfortable, relaxed, and still as the flexible tube is inserted. Though this procedure usually isn’t painful and comes with only mild discomfort, the sedation leaves you sleepy and unable to go about your activities for the rest of the day.

One similarity between the scopes and the PillCam is that you will still need to undergo colon prep. This most frequently involves consuming only clear liquids the day before the procedure as well as needing to take laxatives to completely empty the bowels, which helps the cameras take clear images. Additionally, you will not be able to eat or drink anything (except a small sip of water to take the PillCam) at least 12 hours before the imaging.

Generally, though, the PillCam is much less invasive than an endoscopy or other imaging scope because you do not require sedation. But one drawback is that the sensor belt where the PillCam transmits images to can be cumbersome and heavy. If you have any issues with back pain, be sure to tell your doctor so that you can protect your spine during the PillCam process.

PillCam in stomach

Additionally, the PillCam is really useful at taking better pictures of the small bowel in places where an endoscopy or colonoscopy cannot reach. This is most beneficial to patients who have  Crohn’s disease or other conditions located in the small bowel rather than in the large intestine.

Other factors that you should take into consideration when looking into the PillCam experience is whether or not your local hospital provides the PillCam, as some medical facilities do not offer this option. Furthermore, you will have to check with your insurance company to see how much coverage you can get for this process.

Overall, deciding to use the PillCam should be a decision that you make with your doctor based on your symptoms, past experiences, and an assessment of how well these images could help you to solve stomach troubles.

How Do I Get Through the PillCam Process?

How do I get through the capsule endoscopy processIt’s normal to be a little nervous about swallowing the PillCam. But one important thing to remember is that the PillCam is not much bigger than a regularly sized pill. Know, too, that taking the PillCam is perfectly safe, especially under medical supervision.

Always be sure to bring up any of your concerns about the PillCam to your doctor. Consider asking other patients who have gotten through the capsule endoscopy process what their experiences were as well. Having a support system can be really helpful so that you do not feel alone.

A capsule endoscopy might make all the difference in detecting the cause of your uncomfortable symptoms and getting you on your way to a healthier life without too much poking and prodding.

Capsule Endoscopy Demo Video

What questions do you have about scopes and bowel exams?

Tell us in the comments section below!

What topics about bowel health should we cover next?

Email us at info@painresource.com with your ideas.

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Aryanna Denk
Aryanna Denk is a disabled writer from Buffalo, NY. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University, Ohio and writes often about her own experiences in living with multiple chronic illnesses. When she isn't writing, Aryanna is a writing instructor and disability advocate at a local university. Learn more about her by visiting her Twitter.

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