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A barium swallow is a diagnostic test that involves a series of X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum during and after drinking a barium solution. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine; and the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum are collectively called the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract or upper digestive system. You may also hear doctors refer to a barium swallow as an "upper GI series" or a "barium meal".
A doctor may order a barium swallow when his or her patient suffers from one of more of the following symptoms:
A barium swallow can help detect:
Your child will need to remove any jewelry, and change into a hospital gown. He or she will then drink a barium sulfate solution. This is a thick, white, chalky milkshake-like liquid that coats the inside lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
As your child drinks the barium, a radiologist takes X-rays of the upper GI area, using a machine called a fluoroscope. If the doctor wants to examine the esophagus, he or she may have pictures taken as your child actually swallows the liquid or small bits of food that are covered with barium. Your child will be asked to change positions frequently in order to coat the entire surface of the GI tract with barium.
If the radiologist wants to examine more of the small intestine, a small bowel follow-through may be done. For this exam, X-ray pictures are taken every 15–30 minutes while the barium travels through the intestine.
There is usually no pain associated with the procedure, so anesthesia is not given. Some people dislike the taste of barium, while others are not bothered by it. A barium swallow can take between 30 minutes and two hours. A small bowel follow-through can take one to four hours.
Your child may eat and drink as usual after his or her barium swallow. Unless your child is an inpatient at the hospital for another reason, there is no hospital stay involved.
Have your child drink lots of fluids to eliminate the barium from his or her system.
There are a few possible complications your child may encounter following a barium swallow test:
Certain factors increase your child's risk of experiencing complications during or after the test:
Due to risks of radiation exposure from the X-rays, women who are pregnant should not have a barium swallow.
A normal barium swallow will show an unobstructed, functioning, healthy digestive tract. Examples of abnormalities that may show up on a barium swallow include obstructions, ulcers of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine, or irregularities in the swallowing mechanism. Your child's doctor will make treatment recommendations based on the findings.
Be sure to contact your child's doctor if your child experiences any of the following:
Learn about other Intestine Transplant Tests.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.