Crohn’s disease is a digestive condition characterized by chronic inflammation. It can affect all parts of your digestive system. Usually, it affects the small intestine and large intestine the most.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • blood in stool
  • weight loss

Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for Crohn’s disease involves diagnostic testing, including visualization of the inside of your digestive tract. One method that doctors use is called capsule endoscopy.

In this procedure, you’ll swallow a pill-like capsule containing a small camera, which allows doctors to see inside your digestive tract.

Capsule endoscopy is one of the less invasive diagnostic methods available for Crohn’s. Doctors can use it to see the entire digestive tract, though it’s particularly helpful for diagnosing issues involving the small intestine, according to a 2021 research review.

Capsule endoscopy can be used for various purposes and can be a vital tool in understanding how Crohn’s disease is affecting your digestive system. It’s especially useful in visualizing parts of your small intestine.

According to clinical practice guidelines from 2017, medical professionals often use capsule endoscopy for people who:

  • are considered likely to have Crohn’s
  • have a currently known case of
  • may have a recurring case

Often, doctors use capsule endoscopy when other imaging techniques have failed but the doctor suspects that Crohn’s activity may be present in the small bowel.

According to 2020 research, some of the uses of capsule endoscopy in Crohn’s disease include:

  • diagnosing and monitoring the severity of the condition
  • looking for signs of isolated small bowel disease
  • gaining a better understanding of how small bowel activity is contributing to Crohn’s
  • assessing whether Crohn’s is recurring after ileocolic resection surgery

Capsule endoscopy is a noninvasive method of viewing the digestive system. This makes it a safe method that offers clear visualizations of the digestive tract and the inner lining of organs and body cavities (the mucosa).

It’s often the procedure of choice when visualization of the small intestine is necessary to understand the course of the condition. Often, other diagnostic measures aren’t able to visualize the small bowel with as much accuracy as capsule endoscopy.

With the information gathered from capsule endoscopy, medical professionals can help you fine-tune your treatment plan to make it more effective.

Capsule endoscopy involves swallowing a pill-sized capsule that has several cameras in it, 2021 research explains. As the capsule passes through your digestive system, it takes pictures. These pictures are transmitted to your medical team. The pill is then excreted out of your body when you have a bowel movement.

Here’s what to expect during the procedure:

Before the procedure

  1. In the days before the procedure, you will need to clear your bowels. This may involve changing your diet and taking laxative medication.
  2. You will likely have to fast (refrain from eating) in the 12 hours before the procedure.
  3. Your capsule endoscopy will be performed in your doctor’s office; you will not need to visit a hospital for this procedure.

During the procedure

  1. First, you will swallow the capsule; it will be coated for easier swallowing.
  2. Your body will not break down or absorb the capsule as it does with other pills; the capsule will move whole through your digestive system until you excrete it.
  3. In addition to swallowing the capsule, you will be connected to a recorder. This recorder will be placed on your waist area.
  4. Once you ingest the capsule and the recorder is set, you will be free to leave.
  5. The capsule should naturally exit your body within the next 1 to 2 days.
  6. Once you return the recording device back to the doctor, a technician will process the photos.

Capsule endoscopy is safe for most people, and most don’t have noticeable side effects.

Still, there are certain rare cases where people experience complications. Capsule retention (where the capsule is not excreted) is the most serious complication, but it only occurs in 1.3 to 1.4 percent of people.

Most people are eligible for this procedure, but certain people are not good candidates for capsule endoscopy. These groups include people who:

  • have known bowel obstructions
  • are pregnant
  • have had radiation or small bowel resection surgery
  • have swallowing disorders

Capsule endoscopy is one of several procedures that medical professionals can use to diagnose and manage Crohn’s. Other possible tests they may use include:

Blood and stool tests

Tests may be performed to examine your blood for antibodies, markers of infection, and signs of anemia. Medical professionals may look at your stool for signs of blood or bacterial infections.

These tests are less invasive than tests like a colonoscopy or endoscopy, but they don’t include visualization of the digestive tract like capsule endoscopy does.

Imaging tests

Doctors may use various imaging tests to see inside your digestive tract. These may include MRI scans, CT scans, X-rays, and the upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series.

These tests help with the initial diagnosis of Crohn’s but don’t offer as detailed visualizations of your digestive tract and digestive wall as procedures like capsule endoscopy do.

Colonoscopy and endoscopy

Both colonoscopy and endoscopy allow your doctor to see the walls of your digestive tract to look for abnormalities. These are both more invasive than capsule endoscopy and don’t offer as clear an image of your small intestine as capsule endoscopy does.


In some cases, a biopsy of your digestive tract will be necessary. This is when a small amount of tissue is removed and analyzed. It is a more invasive procedure than capsule endoscopy and serves to detect different types of inflammation or possible cancers.

It’s common to have questions about what an endoscopy capsule procedure involves. Here are answers to some common questions about this procedure.

What’s the size of an endoscopy capsule?

Endoscopy capsules are the size of a large pill or a large vitamin.

Is the capsule easy to swallow?

Most people find capsules easy to swallow. They are not any larger than most pills or vitamins that people typically swallow.

What kind of anesthesia is used for a capsule endoscopy?

You do not need anesthesia for this procedure. You will be awake when you swallow the pill.

What happens to the capsule after the procedure?

Within 24 hours or so, you will excrete the pill in your stool. You do not need to save it; it can be flushed down the toilet.

How much does capsule endoscopy cost?

The cost of the endoscopy capsule itself is about $500, but the procedure has additional costs. Some health insurances will cover these costs but others may not. If you have insurance, you should contact your insurance provider to understand your benefits before you schedule the procedure.

For most people, capsule endoscopy is a noninvasive, safe, and simple procedure. It can be very helpful in the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of Crohn’s.

Still, it’s natural to have questions about what this procedure means for you and what to expect. Contact your doctor for further information and clarification.