How SmartPill capsules are changing GI exams

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The SmartPill market is fast-growing and set to reach $3 billion by 2025. SmartPills are part of a growing number of technological breakthroughs in medical diagnostics and they can give clear answers about disorders of the GI tract in a way that is minimally invasive for the patient. Here, we will be looking specifically at SmartPills that are used for GI diagnostics and not SmartPills that are used for patient compliance, for example for people with schizophrenia.

How does a SmartPill work?

A SmartPill (also known as a capsule endoscopy) is a small disposable capsule that the patient swallows. It has been approved by the FDA for the diagnosis of conditions related to delayed gastric emptying and the evaluation of idiopathic chronic constipation.

As it passes through the GI tract, it transmits information to a data receiver that the patient wears.

This data contains information about gastric PH levels, pressure patterns, gastric emptying time, colonic transit time, temperature, and more. It can help with diagnosing GI motility disorders, such as chronic constipation, nausea, acid reflux, gastroparesis, and more. It also has the potential to be able to detect celiac disease and colon cancer.

What is the SmartPill capsule motility procedure?

If you are called in for a SmartPill procedure, the process is relatively simple. You will be asked to fast for some time before the procedure and you may be asked to stop taking some types of medication.

At the doctor’s office, you will be given a Smart Bar to eat and then the SmartPill capsule, which you take with water. You will be asked not to eat for around six hours after the SmartPill capsule motility procedure.

It will take a few days for the SmartPill to pass, after which you can hand the data receiver back to your doctor where they can analyze the data from it. The capsule will pass naturally with your bowel movement and you should be able to see it when it comes out.

Can a SmartPill get stuck?

For the vast majority of people who go through the SmartPill procedure, there are virtually no side effects (including no abdominal pain) and the capsule will pass without any issues.

If, however, you have a history of strictures in your GI tract from irritable bowel syndrome or other GI disorders, or if you have had previous surgery on your GI tract, there is an increased chance that the capsule could get stuck and you may not be eligible for the procedure.

If the SmartPill were to get stuck, then it would have to be removed through an endoscopic or surgical procedure.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of SmartPill capsules?

SmartPills have the potential to change the way that internal medicine deals with digestive tract issues. By providing a gastrointestinal motility test that is non-invasive, it can help to reduce the anxiety that many patients have about diagnostic procedures for their gastrointestinal tract.

More than that, they can report the entire GI tract and localize issues to specific regions. This is especially useful if the patient is dealing with overlapping motility symptoms.

When compared with gastric emptying scintigraphy, which is the current go-to diagnostic procedure for diagnosing a GI motility disorder, SmartPill technology is able to identify gastrointestinal transit time to a similar accuracy and is able to pick up on the same issues throughout the GI tract.

It is also superior to many other GI transit tests because it can measure gastric, small bowel, and colonic transit times in one examination.

So the SmartPill works just as well as the current gold standards but it is a simpler procedure that requires less time in the doctor’s office and is much more tolerable for patients.

With that being said, it isn’t suitable for all patients with gastric issues. As we mentioned earlier, people who are dealing with IBS and other conditions that cause strictures as well as people who have had surgery in the abdomen and those with pacemakers aren’t able to use a SmartPill to detect their gut transit time because it has the potential to get stuck. And while the SmartPill is in the body, patients are unable to receive an MRI.

There is some evidence that the data can be disrupted through passive bowel movements and space restriction. These are limitations that can hopefully be worked through in the future as the procedure becomes more commonplace.

The consensus from the wealth of new studies that have looked at the viability of the SmartPill procedure in evaluating gastric emptying disorders is that it is something that should be something that is offered to patients and that it is effective and accurate.

There is some suggestion in the future of SmartPill technology also having the capability to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs and treatments to increase the speed of gastric motility. This could be invaluable when it comes to treating these disorders, as opposed to simply helping with evaluating them.

And there are plenty of health technology companies that are creating, developing, and perfecting SmartPill technology. Medtronic, for example, has developed the only SmartPill that can give a complete transit profile of the GI tract. And CapsoVision is taking the technology in a slightly different direction by developing a capsule that can give a 360-degree view of the entire small bowel.

More and more uses for these indigestible smart capsules are likely to be developed in the near future as the demand for technology-backed non-invasive medical diagnostic procedures continues to grow.

To wrap up

SmartPill technology has the potential for a wide range of uses and one of the ones with the most evidence backing is the evaluation of gastric emptying disorders. SmartPills can track the entire GI tract and localize issues to specific regions, which cuts down on the number of diagnostic procedures the person needs. SmartPills are also inherently less invasive and time-consuming than other methods of evaluating these disorders so they can make the process much easier for patients, and less expensive.

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