The pill cam experience

This one’s for Alexander Hayes, ISTAS’13 publicity chair, who recently posted about his knee surgery experience. I thought I would also share an experience about a camera that I had an intimate experience with.

You see, I have a problem where my gut likes to attack itself ever so often. The doctors call this Crohn’s disease, a disorder where the largest component of body’s immune system – the colon – flares up seemingly without good provocation, to the point where it can cause some serious problems. It’s actually somewhat related to Rheumatoid arthritis.

You are warned that there will be colonoscopy photos later on in this post.

I was first diagnosed with this immunological disorder when I was 16. It hit pretty hard at first – massive weight loss, intense pain – but after some therapy, it had gone into remission for a decade. Rather lucky for a Crohn’s patient, as a considerable portion will have a portion of the colon excised at some point in life to keep the disease at bay. It did eventually come back last year, but I’m pleased to say I’m doing quite well.

And a lot of that is thanks to this tiny pill camera.

When the disease started to flare up again, my specialist had me do the usual colonoscopy. Not a pleasant experience, but hardly anything to complain about. But there was one problem with the procedure; part of the colon had narrowed because of the condition, making it hard to get the scope to get to all the necessary stops along the way.

Then the specialist introduced me to the exciting world of the pill cam.

With relatively little in the way of dietary prep involved, a nurse produced a small box with this pill inside. Once she took the pill out of the container, an array of small LEDs located in the clear shell began blinking about twice every second. I learned that they were meant to illuminate the inside of the colon, once for each image taken.

According to the literature from Given Imaging, the Israeli medical tech firm who manufactured the Pillcam SB2, the pill weighed 3.7 ounces and could image my colon with a extra-wide field of view of 156 degrees. Over the course of eight hours, it would take about 50,000 images.

All these images were radioed to a hard drive located on a belt around the waist. Some had tried to hack the pill cam, post-op, to see if they could get the camera to send images again, but to no avail. Apparently there’s some sophisticated hardware that renders the pill inoperable after the power supply runs out, ostensibly to stop unscrupulous doctors from re-using pills.

Results from the pill cam showed that the disease was more pervasive than previously thought. My doctor ordered up a therapy plan to match the severity of the condition, and I’m pleased to announce I’m doing very well as of late.


I’ll be bringing the pill cam to ISTAS13, if you’d care to look at it. Rest assured, it has been thoroughly sanitized from its journey.

Now, as promised, an image from the original colonoscopy. Note the extensive inflammation in red. That’s not how you want your colon to look.