It might seem like a daunting experience at first, but this exciting piece of technology can help monitor your Crohn’s disease more effectively.
Although inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) isn’t a new condition, the scientific developments surrounding it are constantly changing.
Along with new treatments, new procedures have also been created to help with the diagnostic and monitoring process of IBD patients.
One of these is a PillCam, a nifty piece of technology that’s particularly useful for those of us with small bowel Crohn’s disease.
A PillCam is a small, pill-sized device that has a built-in camera. After you swallow it and it reaches your small bowel, it begins taking photos. This used to be a hard-to-monitor area of the digestive tract, given its location (a colonoscopy can’t reach that high).
This procedure is called a capsule endoscopy. Not only is it a fascinating procedure, but it’s also much less invasive than other diagnostic methods, such as a colonoscopy. Most people can go about their day after swallowing the “pill.”
Capsule endoscopy isn’t universally used for IBD patients, however. At the moment, it’s more useful for those with Crohn’s in the small bowel as opposed to the large bowel. It’s also hospital-dependent, as not all hospitals offer the PillCam as a standard procedure.
After undergoing my first PillCam in September, I thought I’d share my top tips for getting through it if you’re about to have one, too.
One of the biggest drawbacks of a regular colonoscopy is the fact you need to prep and follow a special diet beforehand.
With a PillCam, you’ll still need to do this. Some hospitals ask you to prep by drinking a special liquid, while others just ask you to eat a plain, low fiber diet for a few days.
Check your hospital’s requirements and make sure you stick to them, as it could affect the visibility of the camera.
One of the biggest worries people have about a PillCam is actually swallowing it.
I’ll be honest, the PillCam is a bit bigger than your average pill, but my nurse encouraged me not to think about it and just swallow. She also reminded me that I eat bigger pieces of food every day.
So grab a glass and do your best to swallow without thinking about the fact that you’re actually digesting a tiny camera.
I promise it will only take a second, and it’s nothing to be afraid of.
At your appointment, you’ll be fitted with a special waistband that holds sensors and a camera pack. You’ll need to wear this belt for around 8 hours. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing, as you won’t be able to take it off.
Avoid jumpsuits or dresses, and opt for pants with an elastic waistband that can be pulled down easily. That way, you can use the toilet without needing to take the whole belt off.
Jeans aren’t ideal, as the tight waistband can dig in.
Speaking of the camera pack, be warned: The belt and camera is heavy, and after a few hours, your back may ache.
That’s why it’s important to be realistic. It’s usually fine to return to work, but skip your afternoon jog, and avoid anything strenuous.
It’s important, however, that you don’t spend the whole day on the couch.
Walking around helps the camera move effectively through your system to take photos, so being very sedentary for the whole day isn’t ideal.
Set an alarm on your phone each hour or so to remind yourself to walk around the house for 5 minutes.
Once you’ve swallowed your pill, your doctor will turn on the camera pack so they can check the pill has entered your stomach. The camera will be switched on for the remainder of the day, but if you want my advice, don’t look at the images.
There are two reasons for this. First, it can drain the battery more quickly, which means the pill stops transmitting images before it gets to where it needs to be. It can also cause lots of unnecessary anxiety.
We’re not qualified doctors who know how to interpret these images, so just leave it to the professionals.
Although you shouldn’t open up the display, it’s a good idea to make sure everything is working as it should.
The device emits a blue light every few seconds that shows that the pill is connected to the camera. Just keep an eye on this. If it stops after an hour or two, it might be that there’s a technical glitch.
Once the pill has done its work, it goes through the rest of the digestive tract as usual and comes out when you poop.
The age-old question: Should you look out for the pill or not? Every doctor and patient I spoke to about this had a different story.
In theory, it could be hard to miss. If the battery is still running as it comes out, you might find a flashing light in the toilet bowl.
For others, the pill remains in the tract before passing naturally after a day or two. At that point, the battery will be dead, there will be no light, and it’ll be harder to spot.
However, lots of people don’t see the pill come out (me included) and are just fine.
As well as worrying about swallowing the pill, some people panic about the pill potentially getting stuck.
Although this is actually quite rare, if your doctor thinks you’re particularly at risk for this due to previous blockages and strictures, they can do a dummy run with you.
This dummy run pill can check your bowel isn’t blocked or strictured before you take the real thing. It’s also designed to dissolve naturally if it does get stuck.
Like lots of aspects of living with IBD, having a PillCam might seem like a daunting experience at first.
Just remember that it’s an exciting piece of technology that can help monitor your Crohn’s disease more effectively.
Jenna Farmer is a UK-based freelance journalist who specializes in writing about her journey with Crohn’s disease. She’s passionate about raising awareness of living a full life with IBD. Visit her blog, A Balanced Belly, or find her on Instagram.