The “smart-pill” motility study

smart pillThe SmartPill study is a diagnostic technique that can investigate gut health, particularly with regard to motility disorders. The electronic pill is a disposable capsule that the patient swallows in the doctor’s office. Unlike the PillCam capsule endoscopy, this pill does not contain a camera. Instead it uses a variety of sensors to test gut pH (how acid or alkaline the GI tract is at any point), and gut pressure. The system also measures the pill’s approximate position in the body. While the PillCam study only takes a few hours, the SmartPill is monitored for a number of days until it exits from the body in a bowel movement. It therefore takes diagnostic readings for the entire duration of its motion through the gastrointestinal tract.

The SmartPill measures the amount of time it takes to move food through specific regions of the gastrointestinal tract and the overall amount of time it takes to move food through the entire gastrointestinal tract. By measuring gut pressure, the system can determine how hard the muscles of the gut are pushing at any particular point during the voyage of the pill. The pH readings can diagnose the presence of low stomach acid, as well as problems with abnormally low or high pH in other areas. The pill can be used to diagnose gastroparesis.

No sedation or radiation is used and so the risks for this procedure are fairly low. The patient can go about their usual activities. The main risk is the possibility of the pill becoming stuck at some point within the gut. It is not necessary to purge the gut with laxatives because no imaging is used, and so the gut can be in a more natural state than with a colonoscopy or PillCam.

In order to monitor the pill, the patient must wear a radio receiver at all times during the study. This receiver records data that is wirelessly transmitted from the pill. The receiver can be worn on a belt or lanyard. At the start of the study the patient must eat a standard meal, which is typically something like a granola bar, after which the pill is swallowed. The test concludes 3-5 days later when the pill has passed out of the body in a bowel movement.

Following the test, the data collector is returned to the doctor who will review and discuss the collected data.