For years, patients were told that their IBS symptoms were “all in their head.” Of course, that isn’t really true for all patients. We do know that our brains and our gastrointestinal tracts are closely connected. In fact, about 95 percent of our body’s serotonin—the neurochemical that regulates mood—is found within the gastrointestinal tract rather than in the brain.
What we’re now finding is that the neurochemical signaling that occurs within the GI tract can lead to problems with motility—the speed at which food moves through our intestines. If you have IBS, the time it takes for food to move through your GI tract might be slower than normal, causing many of your symptoms.
Today, we often diagnose GI motility issues using a Smart Pill. This is a fairly new technology that is available at specialized GI motility centers, like what we have at Lenox Hill Hospital.
The Smart Pill is a multivitamin-sized wireless ingestible capsule that can determine how quickly (or slowly) food moves through your GI tract.
After fasting overnight, you come to the hospital and we first give you a standardized meal bar to eat. Then, you swallow the capsule and also get a receiver that you carry on your body. Using radiotelemetry, the capsule and the receiver communicate with each other, and the receiver measures and records changes in pH pressure and temperature as the capsule moves through your GI tract. Five days later, you return the receiver and we use the measurements to calculate transit times as food moves from your stomach through your small intestine and into your colon. (There’s no need to recover the capsule! It’s so small that it will pass through your stool without you noticing it.)
If your transit time is found to be slower, we can give you a medication called a prokinetic that helps move food through your intestines more quickly. The Smart Pill is so new that not all insurance companies cover it. In some cases, your health insurer might require you to undergo other diagnostic tests first.