14878 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Upper Gastrointestinal Series

    (Upper GI Series; Barium Swallow; Barium Meal)


    This is a series of x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Together, the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum are called the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or upper digestive system. The x-rays are taken during and after drinking a chemical called barium. The barium solution is a thick, white, chalky, milkshake-like liquid. It coats the inside lining of your GI tract. This makes the GI tract show up better on the x-ray.
    Upper Digestive System
    Upper GI stomach duodenum
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Reasons for Test

    An upper GI series may be done if you have:
    • Diarrhea
    • Weight loss
    • Abdominal pain
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Regurgitation—when food and fluids flow back up from your stomach toward your mouth
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Bloody stools or black, tarry stools
    • Bloody vomit or "coffee-ground" vomit
    An upper GI series can help detect:
    • Ulcers
    • Blockage
    • Abnormal growths or tumors
    • Diverticula—abnormal pouches in the wall of your gut
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—when acid from the stomach moves up into your throat
    • Hiatal hernia—the upper part of the stomach moves up through a small opening in the muscular wall that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity

    Possible Complications

    Some may have an allergic reaction to the barium or have difficulty keeping it down.

    What to Expect

    Prior to Test

    • As with all x-ray tests, make sure you let your doctor know if you are pregnant.
    • Talk to your doctor about the medicines you are taking, as some may have to be adjusted before the test.
    • Do not eat, drink, or smoke for at least eight hours before the test.
    • You may be given a medicine called glucagon. This will slow down the activity of the stomach and small intestine.
    • You may be asked to swallow baking soda crystals. These crystals will bubble and make gas in your stomach, allowing for x-rays that are more detailed.
    • If the doctor wants to look at lower parts of your intestine, you may need to take a laxative the day before your exam. This will clean out your intestine.

    Description of Test

    You will remove all jewelry and wear a hospital gown. You will drink the barium solution. As you drink the barium, the radiologist will take x-rays of your chest and abdomen. The doctor may also give you bits of food to eat with barium on them. You may have to change positions frequently during the test.
    If your doctor wants to look at more of your intestines, a small bowel follow-through may be done. This means that x-ray pictures are taken every 15-30 minutes while the barium travels further down the intestines.

    After Test

    You may eat and drink as usual. Drink plenty of fluid. The barium will slowly pass through your system on its own.
    You may have some white-colored stool or constipation after the test.

    How Long Will It Take?

    An upper GI series can take between 30 minutes and two hours. A small bowel follow-through can take 1-4 hours.

    Will It Hurt?



    A normal upper GI series will show a functioning, healthy digestive tract. Your doctor will perform further tests or make a treatment plan based on the findings.

    Call Your Doctor

    After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occur:
    • Constipation lasts for more than a few days after the test
    • Abdominal pain or bloating
    • Vomiting
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Trouble breathing or cough


    American Gastroenterological Association http://www.gastro.org

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov


    Canadian Association of Gastroenterology http://www.cag-acg.org

    Radiology for Patients http://www.radiologyinfo.ca


    Upper GI series. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/uppergi/. Published November 2004. Accessed July 19, 2008.

    Revision Information

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