A barium swallow is used to view the structures of the upper gastrointestinal system. The test is helpful for determining the cause of swallowing difficulties, pain, vomiting, and bleeding. It can detect and diagnose conditions including polyps, tumors, cancer, ulcers, abnormalities of the esophagus, and hiatal hernia.
A barium swallow is an outpatient procedure that can be performed at your doctor’s office, an outpatient radiology center, or a hospital’s radiology department. The test does not require sedation or anesthesia. You doctor will provide you with specific instructions to prepare for the test.
Generally, the instructions include eating a restricted diet for a few days before your test and not eating or smoking for a period of time before the test. You will need to remove all jewelry, dentures, metal hair clips, body piercing jewelry, and other items that might show up on an X-ray before your procedure.
You will wear an examination gown for your barium swallow procedure. X-rays of your heart, lungs, and abdomen are taken before you swallow the barium. You will drink 16 to 20 ounces of a barium solution. Barium is a chalky substance that is about as thick as a milkshake. It may take an hour or more for the barium to fill your stomach.
You will lie on your back and be secured to a table. The table will tilt to reposition your body for the X-rays. You may be asked to drink more barium as the process takes place. The test may take several hours to complete. An X-ray is a painless procedure and simply requires that you remain motionless while a picture is taken.
After your test, you should drink lots of fluids and eat foods that are high in fiber, such as raw vegetables and fruits, to prevent constipation. Your stools may be light in color for a few days because the barium is a white substance. Your doctor will discuss unexpected symptoms related to the test that may occur and a plan to address them.
A radiologist will read your X-rays and report the results to your doctor. This process may take a few days. Your doctor will contact you or schedule a follow-up appointment when the results are received. If any abnormal results were found on your test, your doctor will discuss treatment plan options with you.