A barium swallow is an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your upper GI tract includes the back of your mouth and throat (pharynx) and your esophagus.
You may have just a barium swallow. Or this test may be done as part of an upper GI series. This series looks at your esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).
X-rays use a small amount of radiation to create images of your bones and internal organs. X-rays are most often used to find bone or joint problems, or to check the heart and lungs. A barium swallow is one type of X-ray.
Fluoroscopy is often used during a barium swallow. Fluoroscopy is a kind of X-ray “movie.”
The test also uses barium. Barium is a substance that makes certain area of the body show up more clearly on an X-ray. The radiologist will be able to see size and shape of the pharynx and esophagus. He or she will also be able see how you swallow. These details might not be seen on a standard X-ray. Barium is used only for imaging tests for the GI tract.
A barium swallow may be done to look for and diagnose problems in the pharynx and esophagus. You may need a barium swallow if your healthcare provider think that you have:
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a barium swallow.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the test. Also ask about the risks as they apply to you.
Consider writing down all X-rays you get, including past scans and X-rays for other health reasons. Show this list to your provider. The risks of radiation exposure may be tied to the number of X-rays you have and the X-ray treatments you have over time.
Tell your provider if:
You may have constipation or impacted stool after the test if all of the barium does not pass out of your body.
You should not have a barium swallow if you have:
You should also not have this test if you are pregnant.
You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.
You may have a barium swallow as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.
Generally, a barium swallow follows this process:
You may go back to your normal diet and activities after a barium swallow, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.
Barium may cause constipation or impacted stool after the procedure if it isn't completely cleared from your body. You may be told to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in fiber to help the rest of the barium leave your body. You may also be given a laxative to help with this.
Your bowel movements may be white or lighter in color until all the barium has left your body.
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these happen:
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know: