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A camera you swallow: how micro-technology is preventing invasive procedures


AUSTIN (KXAN) – Looking into the depths of the human body has always been a challenge. While some areas are easier to see — the throat or colon — the small intestine is just out of reach.

Thankfully, new microtechnology is giving doctors a better look at this 23-foot-long organ.

It’s called a PillCam and its exactly what you’d think.

It’s the size of a large vitamin and has a battery life of 12 hours. After a patient swallows it, a flashing light guides the pill as it takes 50,000 photos of the small intestine — looking for tumors, bleeding, or signs of Crohn’s disease.

Without the PillCam, surgery would be needed to diagnose any problems in this part of the body. “There are issues in the small bowel which we used to not be able to examine at all,” says Dr. Kenneth Ellis, of Austin Gastroenterology.

The photos are transmitted to a belt the patient wears, which also acts as a GPS for the pill, in case it gets stuck on a blockage. In this case, surgery might be needed to remove it. Otherwise, after eight hours, the procedure is done. “The pill passes and you just bring back the belt. So there’s no panning,” Ellis says.

If the photos find something, surgery might be performed.

When asked if the PillCam has ever broken before, Ellis says he hasn’t seen it and that the pill is big and durable.

Each pill costs about $500, with the procedure running about $2,000. Ellis says the PillCam will not replace a common colonoscopy, however, since a colonoscopy allows a biopsy to be performed during the same procedure.  

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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