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How Technology Could Help Explain Your GI Troubles

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Once swallowed, a single-use, pill-sized capsule can provide important data to doctors about your body's gastrointestinal system. It can measure pH, temperature and pressure and provides important transit times, which can help your doctor determine if your stomach or colon is emptying too slowly.

For years, doctors and patients alike have been frequently frustrated by the recurrence of unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, nausea, constipation, vomiting and abdominal pain.

In fact, these symptoms are common, with 62 million Americans diagnosed with a digestive disorder every year, according to the Endoscopy Center.

Because there can be so many causes of digestive symptoms, it has historically been difficult to narrow down their cause without administering a battery of tests and, at times, invasive procedures. Luckily, with advances in medical technology there are new, more efficient methods for diagnosing GI symptoms. One such advancement is the SmartPill.

Once swallowed, this single-use, pill-sized capsule can provide important data to doctors about your body's gastrointestinal system. It can measure pH, temperature and pressure and provides important transit times, which can help your doctor determine if your stomach or colon is emptying too slowly. Unlike some other tests, the SmartPill requires almost no down time, no sedation and no radiation.

Not all health insurance carriers cover the SmartPill but several do, including Medicare and some commercial carriers. If it’s an option you want to learn more about, reach out to your provider to ask about coverage.

Here's how it works:

1. You'll fast for eight hours prior to arriving at your doctor's office. Once there, your doctor will verify you're prepared to take the pill and go over what you can expect. The doctor will also explain the use of the data recorder, which you will wear throughout the next 3-5 days as the SmartPill passes through your GI tract.

2. You'll be given a SmartBar to eat (similar in taste and shape to a granola bar), which has the nutrients and content to make sure the SmartPill has an optimal environment in which to take measurements.

3. After eating the SmartBar, you'll be asked to swallow the SmartPill, which is similar in shape and size to a multivitamin. You should then wait six hours before eating anything else.

4. Once you leave the office, you can resume your normal routine, though you may be asked to avoid certain types of exercise. For the next 3-5 days, you'll be asked to wear a data recorder either clipped to your belt or on a lanyard to make sure all important SmartPill data is recorded. You'll remove the recorder only before bathing or sleeping, but it should remain within 2 feet of you at all times.

5. The pill will pass naturally with a bowel movement, and you'll then return to the doctor's office to have the data from the recorder analyzed.

The SmartPill can help doctors definitively diagnose motility disorders like idiopathic and diabetic gastroparesis, functional non-ulcer dyspepsia and chronic constipation, according to Given Imaging.

"SmartPill does not take pictures," Given Imaging says. "As the capsule naturally passes through your GI tract, it collects valuable information including measuring the amount of time it takes to move food through specific regions of the GI tract and the overall amount of time it takes to move food through the entire GI tract."

With this information, your doctor will better be able to determine which procedures or medications can help alleviate your GI symptoms.

The SmartPill is more comfortable for the patient than many other existing diagnostic tests, and it also eliminates radiation exposure and minimizes down-time. To understand if the SmartPill is right for you, visit a gastroenterologist who can review your medical history and perform a physical examination like one of the GI experts at The Endoscopy Center.