Upper Gastrointestinal Series
(Upper GI Series; Barium Swallow; Barium Meal)
This is a series of x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum. 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 contrast material 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
Reasons for Test
An upper GI series may be done if you have:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Acid reflux—when food and fluids flow back up from your stomach toward your mouth
- Rectal bleeding
- Bloody stools or black, tarry stools
- Bloody vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
An upper GI series can help detect:
Some people 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 medication you are taking. They may need to be adjusted before the test.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke for at least 8 hours before the test.
- You may be given a medication 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 the 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 30 minutes-2 hours. A small bowel follow-through can take 1-4 hours.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
- Constipation that lasts for more than a few days after the test
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Trouble breathing or cough
American Gastroenterological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Radiology for Patients
Patient prep & instruction manual. Scheduled test: upper GI series. Penn Medicine website. Available at: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/radiology/patient/docs/Upper_GI_Series.pdf. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Upper GI series. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/diagnostic-tests/upper-gi-series/Pages/diagnostic-test.aspx. Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.