Good Vibrations: Buzzing Capsule Could Relieve Constipation
Scientists are abuzz over a vibrating capsule that could treat constipation.
Credit: Rommel Canlas | Shutterstock

People who suffer from constipation could get some relief by swallowing a capsule that vibrates as it moves through the digestive tract, new research finds.

The capsule nearly doubled the weekly bowel movements of patients with chronic constipation and constipation-related irritable bowel syndrome, according to research presented May 3 at a major digestive disease conference in Chicago.

"Despite the widespread use of medication to treat constipation, nearly 50 percent of patients are unsatisfied with the treatment — either because of side effects, safety concerns about long-term use, or the fact that it simply doesn't work," study leader Dr. Yishai Ron, of Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, said in a statement. [Poop Apps: 5 Tools for Tracking Your Stools]

Smooth move

In the study, 26 patients swallowed the vibrating capsule twice per week for 12 weeks, and completed a daily questionnaire about their bowel movements. All patients had stopped using laxatives two weeks before participating in the study.

While using the vibrating capsule, patients reported an increase in spontaneous bowel movement, from two to four times per week. In addition, the patients reported fewer symptoms of constipation — such as difficulty passing stools and incomplete evacuation.

There were few side effects, according to the researchers. A few patients complained of abdominal pain, diarrhea or flatulence, and two patients who began participating in the study withdrew from it because of the requirement that they collect the capsules after they were expelled with their stools.  

The capsule contains a tiny engine, which is programmed to start vibrating six to eight hours after it is swallowed. The vibrations cause the digestive tract to contract, keeping the contents moving along, the researchers said. The capsules were non-reusable.

Chronic constipation affects as much as 15 percent of the U.S. population, and symptoms can cause pain and reduce people's quality of life, the researchers said. The most common causes include lack of fiber and liquids in the diet, lack of exercise, medications, older age and abuse of laxatives.

Although laxatives can sometimes bring relief, they come with a host of side effects, including bloating and electrolyte imbalance. By contrast, the vibrating pill mimics the body's natural physiology, Ron said.

The researchers plan to conduct a controlled, double-blind study — in which neither the researchers nor the patients know who is receiving the treatment — to investigate the vibrating capsule's potential.

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