What is a barium swallow?
A barium swallow is a fluoroscopic X ray examination of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes the pharynx (back of mouth and throat) and the esophagus (the food pipe which extends from the neck to the stomach). The patient drinks a liquid suspension called Barium Sulfate, which outlines the anatomy of the pharynx and the esophagus under fluoroscopy. Usually the patient will drink different types of barium solutions, effervescent granules, and often a barium tablet. Sometimes water soluble contrast is used when a leak is suspected.
How do I prepare for the exam?
Patients should have nothing to eat or drink after midnight or at least 8 hours before the exam. Patients will change into a hospital gown and will be asked to remove jewelry or objects that may interfere with the procedure.
What can I expect during the exam?
After you have changed, the technologist will walk you to the fluoroscopy suite. The technologist will then explain the procedure in detail. Occasionally, preliminary X rays may be taken.
The radiologist comes and introduces him or herself, checks the preliminary X rays (if any), and then talks to you about your medical history and discusses the indication of the examination.
The fluoroscopic table on which the study is performed can be vertical or horizontal in position. Barium swallow is usually begun in the standing position. You will be asked to drink barium suspensions, with specific instructions of how much to drink and when to drink. At some point the table will be slowly turned to horizontal position. You will be asked to move into various positions and multiple images will be taken. You may be asked to drink additional barium while lying on your stomach. The exam takes about 15-30 minutes.
What are aftercare instructions?
Barium can be constipating, so it is important to drink plenty of fluids to wash the barium out of your system. You can immediately resume your regular diet. Your stool may be whitish because of barium.
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