Barium Swallow - There may be many reasons for your doctor to recommend a barium swallow. Learn more about the procedure and how to prepare below.
A barium swallow is a radiographic (X-ray) examination of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, specifically the pharynx (back of mouth and throat) and the esophagus (a hollow tube of muscle extending from below the tongue to the stomach). The pharynx and esophagus are made visible on X-ray film by a liquid suspension called barium sulfate (barium). Barium highlights certain areas in the body to create a clearer picture. A barium swallow may be performed separately or as part of an upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series, which evaluates the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (first part of the small intestine).
Fluoroscopy [LINK] is often used during a barium swallow to study moving body structures — similar to an X-ray "movie." In barium X-rays, fluoroscopy allows the radiologist to see the movement of the barium through the pharynx and esophagus as a person drinks.
A barium swallow may be performed to diagnose structural or functional abnormalities of the pharynx and esophagus. These abnormalities may include, but are not limited to:
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a barium swallow.
You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It's a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your doctor. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time.
If you're pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.
Patients who are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, iodine, or latex should notify their doctor.
Constipation or fecal impaction may occur if the barium isn't completely eliminated from the body.
Contraindications for a barium swallow may include, but are not limited to:
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
PRECAUTIONS: If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, please check with your doctor before scheduling the exam. Notify the radiologist if you have had a recent barium X-ray or gastrointestinal surgical procedure, as this may interfere with obtaining an optimal X-ray exposure of the upper GI area.
EAT/DRINK: You must follow the food and drink guidelines to ensure you are prepared for your exam. The night before your exam, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
A barium swallow may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.
Generally, a barium swallow follows this process:
You may resume your normal diet and activities after a barium swallow, unless your doctor advises you differently.
Barium may cause constipation or possible impaction after the procedure if it isn't completely eliminated from your body. You may be advised to drink plenty of fluids to expel the barium from the body. You may also be given acathartic or laxative to help expel the barium.
Since barium isn't absorbed into the body but passes through the entire intestinal tract, your bowel movements may be lighter in color until all of the barium has been excreted.
Notify your doctor to report any of the following:
Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
During a modified barium swallow, you ingest foods and liquids containing barium sulfate, a contrast dye that sharply outlines your mouth, throat, and esophagus on x-ray film. Using real-time x-rays, or fluoroscopy, a physician and a speech pathologist observe the movement of the barium through these structures on a television monitor. Modified barium swallow is specifically aimed at evaluating the swallowing process in individuals who have difficulty speaking or swallowing food without inhaling, or aspirating, it into the windpipe.
Your physician will receive a copy of the radiologists final report.