How A Unique Vibrating Pill May Help Combat Chronic Constipation

For the 16% of Americans living with Chronic Idiopathic Constipation (CIC), complete bowel movements are hard to come by (per Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology). People with CIC consistently produce less than three bowel movements a week — a level of infrequency that often leads to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, abdominal discomfort, and painful stools.

While WebMD reports that 85% of patients who seek medical attention for constipation are prescribed laxatives, the overuse of these medications can lead to mineral deficiency, dehydration, organ damage, laxative dependency, and may even exacerbate chronic constipation (per National Eating Disorder Association). Now, a new drug-free capsule promises to relieve symptoms of chronic constipation without the use of these potentially harmful medications.

Israel-based device developer Vibrant Gastro developed a vibrating capsule that mechanically stimulates the colon without medication. The capsules work by activating nerve cells in the gut that trigger peristalsis — the involuntary muscle contractions that move food through our gastrointestinal tracts (per CNN). While the capsules received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August of last year, this is the first week doctors are able to prescribe them to patients.

Effectiveness of Vibrant vibrating capsules

Prior to receiving FDA approval, Vibrant conducted a clinical trial in which 200 participants took the vibrating capsules every night for eight weeks while 149 participants took a placebo for the same amount of time (per CNN). According to a press release, nearly 40% of those taking the Vibrant capsules said that they had one more bowel movement a week than they were previously having while 23% had two or more additional bowel movements a week compared to 23% and 12% of the control group, respectively. While the study didn't examine Vibrant's effectiveness in comparison to prescription laxatives, authors of the study believe that it produces similar results, per CNN.

In order to get the FDA's seal of approval Vibrant had to prove that the pills were made without the use of toxic chemicals, didn't put users at risk of infection, irritation, or obstruction, and could withstand an accidental human bite. Regardless of these conditions, the capsules — much like contact lenses — are considered to be class 2 medical devices, carrying with them an intermediate risk of harm (via CNN).

Vibrant insists that the capsules are not a cure, and must be taken each night before bed in order to be effective in treating chronic constipation.