How do we capture images from inside the human digestive system?
An endoscopy is a medical procedure to examine the inside of the body via a natural opening or a small incision. Traditionally, an instrument called an endoscope is used, but more recently tiny cameras inside capsules we can swallow have been taking their place. Specializing in the inspection of the intestines, oesophagus and stomach, it can examine places the endoscope could never reach. In particular, it is used to study the three major sections of the small intestine: the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. About the size of a pound coin, the capsule transmits images to outside data recorders. It moves naturally through the digestive tract and is designed to help diagnose the causes of chronic diarrhea, inﬂammatory bowel disease, abdominal pain and malabsorption. To capture images, the mechanism shines a light from its LED source onto the wall of any part of the gastrointestinal tract. These images are then transported by radio waves to a nearby receiver or monitor for analysis.
If there’s a downside, it is that currently the camera can’t be stopped to take a closer look at anything, as it’s moved by natural peristalsis. To date, over 400,000 procedures have been performed worldwide and retention has occurred in only 0.75 per cent of cases, so the chances of it not passing through safely are very slim. In around eight hours the capsule can capture an incredible 50,000 or so images. It costs about £600 ($1,000) to administer but its ability to explore parts of the digestive system in unprecedented detail – outside invasive surgery – is invaluable.
Camera capsule endoscopy is a painless and relatively fast process. To allow the procedure to work effectively, the patient must observe a few important measures. Prior to examination, the patient must not eat or drink anything for 12 hours. In some cases, patients may also need to cleanse their bowel before the procedure takes place. After taking the capsule, you can move around as long as you don’t make any sudden movements. The vast majorities who have used the capsule said they felt no pain or discomfort. You can drink clear liquids two hours after ingestion and eat food after four hours.