Diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract affect approximately 70 million people in this country every year, ranging from Crohn’s Disease to Irritable Bowel Syndrome to Ulcers. With the average human digestive tract running about 30 feet in length, there are many places where problems can arise.
Doctors perform different procedures to get an up-close look at any potential problems. An upper Endoscopy, where a patient is sedated while the physician inserts a tube down the throat, can access the first four or five feet of the upper tract, which includes the esophagus and stomach. A Colonoscopy, also done under mild sedation with the physician inserting a tube into the rectum, provides images of the colon or lower tract, which stretches about six feet. To view the remaining 20 or so feet of the tract, a capsule endoscopy is performed using the PillCam, a vitamin-sized capsule that carries high-tech equipment through the system, including a miniature camera, transmitter and flash.
In use at New Hanover Regional Medical Center since 2004, the PillCam, which measures 11 mm by 26 mm and weighs less than four grams, is normally recommended if the doctor cannot identify a gastrointestinal problem by the endoscopy or colonoscopy.
“The PillCam is a wonderful diagnostic tool,” said Denise Weaver, RN, one of three nurses in New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Endoscopy Unit who works with the PillCam. “It allows us to see areas of the body we couldn’t access without surgery.”
“I’ve had very few people who cannot swallow the pill. In that case, the doctor will do an upper endoscopy to place the pill into the stomach so it can begin the process of transmitting images.”
“It was a breeze,” said Colleen Redman, a patient who recently came to New Hanover Regional to undergo a capsule endoscopy. “The pill is very easy to swallow, all I needed was a small sip of water. Once that’s done, you almost forget about it.”
Normally patients are only in the hospital for about 45 minutes when having a capsule endoscopy. Nurses will put sensors on the patient, and wire them up to a small computer device worn around the waist. After the patient swallows the pill they leave the hospital and resume their daily routine. Over the next eight hours the capsule winds its way through the digestive system, the camera snapping two images every second, giving medical experts amazing snapshots of the entire digestive system.
The patient returns after eight hours so the nurse can remove the sensors and computer. The pill continues to work its way through the system and exits during a normal bowel movement.
“Once in a while I looked down and remembered I had the little computer pack around my waist,” said Redman. “Other than that reminder, it was a walk in the park. I wish all procedures were this easy!”
New Hanover Regional Medical Center recently upgraded the software used during a capsule endoscopy. Doctors can see the images captured by the PillCam in new ways, to better diagnose and treat digestive conditions.
“Our upgraded software allows the doctors to see the pictures in a video-like format, or they can stop and look at each image singularly.”
“The newer software is also more sophisticated that it can find areas of blood and mark them for physician to zone in on. Once they identify what’s wrong, they can recommend a protocol of treatment that best suits the patient’s needs.”For more information on a physician who may recommend this procedure, call VitaLine at 815.5188.