Video pill makes 'fantastic voyage' inside body
From Keith Oppenheim
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- With a flash and a swig, Tom Munz is on his way to an easy and painless diagnosis of his intestinal problems.
His doctor has given him a relatively new device called a Capsule Endoscope -- essentially a pill with a video camera, light and transmitter in it -- that is designed to take color pictures inside his body. Munz swallows the "video pill" with water.
"The capsule is going to take video of your entire intestine while it passes through -- sort of like the 'Fantastic Voyage,' " Dr. Alan Buchman tells his patient.
Munz suffers from Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract that causes abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea. The video pill can provide some patients with an alternative to the uncomfortable colonoscopies that are frequently used to detect flare-ups.
Once he swallows the pill, which is about an inch long and less than half an inch wide, Munz can return to work and move around normally while the device travels through his system. He wears sensors and a belt with a data recorder that receives images from the camera.
A few hours later, Munz returns to his doctor's office for the pictures to be downloaded and analyzed. Of the 58,000 images collected, only three show an ulcer, indicating that Munz's condition is improving.
The Israeli company Given Imaging developed the video pill, which was approved for use in the United States in August 2001.
It is less painful than the standard colonoscopy and has the advantage of being able to take pictures of the entire intestine; a colonoscopy can only see part of the bowel. The pill has a smooth coating that resists damage by digestive fluids; it is excreted from the body naturally within eight to 72 hours after being swallowed.
Not every patient is a candidate, however. The Food and Drug Administration said the device should not be used in patients who have cardiac pacemakers or other electromagnetic devices, or those who have intestinal blockages, especially small intestines, or abnormal connections between the intestine and another body part.
About 3,000 patients worldwide have used the video pill. The procedure can be expensive -- about $2,000 -- unless it's done free of charge in the course of a research study. Insurance typically does not cover the cost.
Some doctors, however, said they hope the pill will become part of mainstream treatment because of what it can do to diagnose certain patients.
"We're now able to find things using the capsule video endoscope that were not found before and therefore can institute appropriate treatment," said Buchman, a gastroenterologist at Northwestern University.
For patients, there are benefits besides physical comfort.
"I think seeing the actual results is kind of a weight off your shoulders because you actually know what's going on," Munz said.
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