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Pill-sized camera and magnets help diagnose digestive problems in children

Pill camera equipment
21 November 2019

A pioneering paediatric consultant is diagnosing digestive issues in children across the UK by using a small pill-sized camera and magnets.

Professor Mike Thomson, consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has been using the technique of a wireless capsule endoscopy procedure for 20 years – but now the process is improved thanks to the use of magnets.

In some cases, children over the age of eight are now able to avoid surgery to have their endoscopy – a diagnostic process where a small tube with a camera is passed through the throat into the digestive system – and can swallow a small capsule while in bed on the ward. The capsule then transmits a live video feed to a screen, which can be viewed by healthcare staff (and the patient too).

Professor Thomson explains how magnets are involved: “Normally the capsule goes through the body by peristalsis, which is the name for the contractions which move food through the digestive tract. But if, in real time, we see an interesting area on the video we need to see again in more detail, then we can use handheld magnets to bring the capsule back where we need it, to view it again.

“The magnets, like the wireless capsules, can be done on the ward. They’re powerful but handheld, so there’s no need for the patient to move to the theatres. It’s a non-invasive option to diagnosing a number of conditions for our patients that has been really well received.”

As well as removing the need for patients to go to theatres, apart from those under the age of eight, the capsules provide a much more thorough view inside a patient. A traditional endoscopy can only reach so far, whereas the capsule makes a complete journey through the bowel and passes out of the body.

For smaller children under the age of eight, the capsule may be too large to swallow and is placed with an endoscope in theatres, although even this is less invasive than a normal endoscopy.

Sheffield Children’s is a national centre for wireless capsule endoscopies, carrying out more of the procedures than anywhere else in Europe. Between the beginning of 2019 and the end of October, Sheffield Children’s had completed 80 procedures.

Watch the pill camera footage here:

You can learn about our gastroenterology team here:

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