Reasons, Preparation & Procedure For Conducting a Barium Swallow Test

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Barium swallow is also known as the Upper Gastrointestinal (UGI) Series. This test is done to check the middle and upper sections of the gastrointestinal tract. For the test X-ray, fluoroscopy, and barium contrast material is used. For the test, you will be asked to drink a mixture of water and barium as well as gas-making crystals. The physician monitors the barium as it moves through the food pipe, to the stomach, and then to the duodenum. X-ray images are taken with different views and at various times.

After the UGI, a bowel follow through needs to be done. In cases, where the doctor just checks the throat, then it is known as barium swallow or even an esophagram. In some cases upper endoscopy is also done.

Reasons Why It is Conducted

  • These tests are done if a person is experiencing problems swallowing or has other symptoms like stomach pain, burping of food, and vomiting. Hiatal hernia could be the cause of this.
  • The test can detect inflammation in the intestine, motility disorders, or malabsorbtion syndrome.
  • Through the test strictures can be spotted in the upper intestinal tract, pyloric stenosis, polyps, tumors, and ulcers.
  • Swallowed objects can be detected through this test.

A UGI series is recommended to people who

  • Have problems swallowing
  • Have a blocked intestine
  • Have Crohn's disease
  • Have stomach pain or cramps that aggravate while eating
  • Have heart burn


You can prepare for the test by telling your doctor if you are taking any medicine, are allergic to any particular medicines or barium, or, are pregnant. The doctor will put you on a low-fiber diet for 48 hours or more. Twelve hours before the test, you will be asked to stop eating and refrain from all food until the test is done.

You will be given a laxative to flush out the stool from your intestines. A tube might be inserted through your nose that will snake down to the stomach and suck out the fluids, in case the laxative doesn't work.


The test will be done in a hospital or in the doctor's clinic by a radiology technologist and radiologist. After you take off your jewelry, accessories and clothes, and slip into a hospital gown, you will be asked to lie on the X-ray table. An X-ray image will be taken before, and more after you drink the barium mix. You will be asked to sip the mix by the technologist, and before the test comes to an end, you may have had a cup of fluid.

With the help of X-ray images and fluoroscopy, the radiologist will monitor the barium as it moves to your gastrointestinal tract. The test will take half an hour to forty minutes.