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Getting a fecal transplant in a pill might be just as effective as a colonoscopy

Getting a fecal transplant in a pill might be just as effective as getting one with a colonoscopy, according to new research. This could be very good news for people with a painful bowel infection, since taking a capsule by mouth is far less unpleasant than undergoing surgery.

Fecal transplants involve replacing a person's feces in the bowel with those of a healthy donor. They are used to treat a type of infection, brought by the bacteria Clostridium difficile, that causes severe diarrhea and sometimes fever, nausea, or even kidney failure. Because the C. diff bacteria disrupts the normal bacteria in the gut, fecal transplants — which include plenty of healthy gut bacteria — can solve the issue. Though the procedure is usually done via colonoscopy, in recent years scientists have developed frozen pills that do the same thing. In a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that the two methods were just as effective after 12 weeks.

The study followed 116 patients who were prone to repeatedly suffering from the infection. Half of them received a fecal transplant through a capsule and half of them through a colonoscopy. About 96 percent of people in both groups were free from the infection after 12 weeks.

Unsurprisingly, the people who got the capsules were much happier. DIY pills have been around for a while, and now doctors are making them, too, with blended up stool samples from healthy volunteers. Patients might have to take a lot of pills for the therapy to work, but it’s still less painful and uncomfortable than an invasive procedure, which can cost $3,000 out of pocket.

It’s worth noting that today’s study didn’t include people who had complicated forms of the infection, so a capsule might not be as good of a treatment for them. But for others, maybe health really can come in a pill — however unappealing it may seem.