Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series (Barium Swallow, Barium Meal)

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A series of x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum during and after drinking a barium solution. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine. The esophagus, stomach, and duodenum are collectively called the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract or upper digestive system.

Anatomy of the Upper Digestive System

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Parts of the Body Involved

The upper GI tract, the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum are viewed in this procedure.

Reasons for Procedure

An upper GI series may be ordered if you have:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody stools or black, tarry stools
  • Bloody vomit or "coffee-ground" vomit

An upper GI series can help detect:

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • Presence of food in the stomach
  • Presence of barium in the colon
  • Perforated or obstructed bowel

Due to the risks of radiation exposure, you should not have an upper GI series if you are pregnant.

What to Expect Prior to ProcedureReview your medications with your doctor. There are some that you may need to stop taking before this procedure.Do not eat, drink, or smoke for at least eight hours before the procedure.You may be given a medication called glucagon to slow down the activity of the stomach and small intestine.You may be asked to swallow baking soda crystals, which will bubble and produce gas in your stomach, allowing for more detailed x-rays.If you are going to have a small bowel follow-through, you may be asked to take a laxative medication the day before your exam, in order to clean out the small intestine. During ProcedureA barium sulfate solution will be administered. AnesthesiaThere is no anesthesia associated with this procedure. Description of the ProcedureRemove all jewelry and wear a hospital gown. You will drink barium, which is a thick, white, chalky milkshake-like liquid that coats the inside lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. As you drink the barium, the radiologist takes x-rays of the upper GI area, using a machine called a fluoroscope. If your doctor wants to examine the esophagus, you may have pictures taken as you actually swallow the liquid or small bits of food that are covered with barium. You will be asked to change positions frequently in order to coat the entire surface of the GI tract with barium.
If the radiologist wants to examine more of the small intestine, a small bowel follow-through may be done. For this exam, x-ray pictures are taken every 15 to 30 minutes while the barium travels through the intestine. After ProcedureYou may eat and drink as usual. How Long Will It Take?An upper GI series can take between 30 minutes and two hours. A small bowel follow-through can take 1 to 4 hours. Will It Hurt?No. There is usually no pain associated with the procedure. Possible ComplicationsConstipation for a few days after the procedureWhite stoolBowel obstruction, rare Aspiration of the barium into your lungs, which can lead to pneumonia Average Hospital StayA hospital stay is not scheduled for this procedure. Postoperative CareDrink lots of fluids to eliminate the barium from your system. OutcomeA normal upper GI series will show an unobstructed, functioning, healthy digestive tract. Examples of abnormalities that may show up on an upper GI series include obstructions, ulcers of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, or irregularities in the swallowing mechanism. Your doctor will make treatment recommendations based on the findings. Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following OccursAbdominal pain or bloatingConstipation doesn't resolve within a few daysSigns of infection, including fever and chills RESOURCES:
American Gastroenterological Associationhttp://www.gastro.org National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIHhttp://digestive.niddk.nih.gov CANADIAN RESOURCES: The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG)http://www.cag-acg.org/home.htm Radiology for Patientshttp://www.radiologyinfo.ca References: National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ . Last reviewed November 2007 by Daus Mahnke, MDPlease be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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