New Procedure Easier to "Swallow"

Reporter: Shannon Samson

From start to finish, it's a long way through the digestive tract and even with long scopes, there are parts of it that doctors can't see if you have a problem.

Now, patients can swallow pills that take pictures for them to examine. Late last year, we told you about one designed for the lower GI tract. Now, there's one for upper part too. Formerly known as MWA and now called Pill Cam SB for small bowel, the capsule has revolutionized the way doctors look at the small intestine.

It used to be considered the black hole of gastroenterology. Dr. William Johnson says, "With colonoscopy, we can look up through the entire colon in most individuals and even into the terminal section of the small intestine, but we've not been able to visualize with various X-ray studies, the small intestinal lining."

Now, patients swallow the capsule which takes four pictures a second as it makes its way through the small bowel. Those images are transmitted to a recorder belt and then the computer where doctor see the images to look for ulcers, polyps or other signs of trouble.

Now this capsule, called the Ppill Cam ESO does the same thing for the esophagus, except instead of one camera, there are two that take 14 pictures a second. And instead of an eight hour test, this one only takes twenty minutes.

Doctors watch the video for signs of acid reflux or a pre-cancerous condition called Barrette's esophagus. It won't replace endoscopy anytime soon because that's the only way doctors can take biopsies or provide any treatment for trouble spots.

But it may be just the thing for patients who can't stand the thought of such an invasive test or the sedation and time off work that usually comes with it. Dr. Johnson says, "For the person who is phobic about medical procedures, although most of those people are phobic about big pills too, the pill cam might be an option."

Natural digestive contractions propel the pill cam through the GI tract until it's passed naturally, usually within 24 hours.

The Pill Cam SB is now available for children ten years old and up. Doctors use it to diagnose Chron's and celiac disease and other malabsorption and small bowel disorders. And I'm sure it's much easier to talk a kid into swallowing a pill than having a colonoscopy.