Thumbnail image of: Digestive System: Illustration

Upper GI Series (Barium X-Ray Exam)

What is an upper GI series?

An upper GI series is a procedure that uses barium and X-rays to look at the upper digestive tract, which includes your throat, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach. Barium is a liquid that helps your upper digestive tract show up well on the X-ray.

This procedure is also called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) barium study. If the test looks just at the esophagus, it is called a barium swallow.

When is it used?

This procedure may be done if you have:

  • Belly pain or heartburn
  • Problems swallowing
  • Swelling or irritation of your esophagus
  • Bleeding in your digestive tract
  • A suspected tumor in or near your digestive tract

The exam also helps diagnose ulcers or a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is when part of your stomach pokes through the muscle between your chest and belly that helps you breathe.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Tell your provider if you have any food, medicine, latex, or other allergies.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. You may also be asked not to chew gum or smoke cigarettes after midnight the night before the procedure. Both can increase the amount of saliva in your stomach, which can interfere with the exam.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure, depending on what they are and when you need to take them. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Follow any instructions your healthcare provider may give you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what the healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

Your healthcare provider will give you barium in a thick, flavored drink. The barium coats the sides of your throat and esophagus so that the size, shape and the inside lining of the walls show up on X-ray.

The X-ray technologist will ask you first to stand in front of the X-ray machine and then you will lie on an X-ray table that tilts in various positions. A small amount of air may be pumped into your stomach to help spread the barium and to get better X-ray pictures.

The technologist will take X-rays of the barium liquid going down your throat, into your stomach, and sometimes going on through your small intestine.

The exam usually takes 1 to 2 hours. Sometimes it may last longer.

What happens after the procedure?

You can go home after the test is done. You may have some nausea or bloating after the test. You may also be constipated from the barium. Unless your provider tells you otherwise, drink plenty of water and eat foods high in fiber until the barium passes. Ask your healthcare provider if you should take a laxative. Your bowel movements may look white or gray for the next few days.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • The barium could cause a blockage in your intestines, which can cause belly pain, nausea and vomiting. A blockage can be life-threatening.
  • You could inhale the barium into your lungs, which could cause breathing problems or pneumonia.
  • Rarely, you may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-15
Last reviewed: 2014-08-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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