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Upper GI Series (Barium X-ray Exam)

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KEY POINTS

  • An upper GI series is a procedure that uses barium and X-rays to look at your child’s throat, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
  • Your child’s healthcare provider will give your child a thick, flavored drink containing barium. The chalky white liquid coats your child’s throat, esophagus, and stomach so that the size, shape, and the inside lining of the walls show up well when the X-ray technologist takes X-rays.
  • Your child’s healthcare provider will tell you how and when you will get your child’s test results.

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What is an upper GI series?

An upper GI series is a procedure that uses barium and X-rays to look at the upper digestive tract, which includes your child’s throat, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Your child’s esophagus is the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. Barium is a liquid that helps your child’s upper digestive tract show up well on the X-ray.

This procedure is also called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) barium study. If the test looks just at the esophagus and stomach, it is called a barium swallow.

When is it used?

This procedure may be done if your child has:

  • Belly pain or heartburn
  • Problems swallowing
  • Swelling or irritation of the esophagus
  • Bleeding in the digestive tract
  • Poor weight gain

How do I prepare my child for this procedure?

  • Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Your child’s provider will tell you when your child needs to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep your child from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Your child may or may not need to take regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell the healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that your child takes. Some products may increase the risk of side effects. Ask the healthcare provider if your child needs to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your child’s provider if your older child is or may be pregnant or is breastfeeding.
  • Follow any other instructions your child’s healthcare provider may give you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your child’s provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your child’s healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

Your child’s healthcare provider will give your child a thick, flavored drink containing barium. The chalky white liquid coats the throat, esophagus, and stomach so that the size, shape, and the inside lining of the walls show up well on X-ray. If your child is unable to drink the barium, the technologist may put a thin tube through your child's nose to get the barium into the esophagus.

The X-ray technologist will ask your child first to stand in front of the X-ray machine and then to lie on an X-ray table that tilts in various positions. Your child may need to move around on the table also.

The technologist will take X-rays of the barium liquid going down your child’s throat, into the stomach, and sometimes going on through your child’s small intestine.

A radiologist may help with test. Radiologists are doctors who have special training in reading X-ray films and other types of images.

The exam usually takes 1 to 2 hours. Sometimes it may last longer.

What happens after the procedure?

Your child can go home after the test is done. Your child may have some nausea or bloating after the test. Your child may also be constipated from the barium. Unless your child’s provider tells you otherwise, your child should drink plenty of water and eat foods high in fiber until the barium passes. Ask if your child should take a laxative. Your child’s bowel movements may look white or gray for the next few days.

Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask the provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • The barium could cause a blockage in your child’s intestines, which can cause belly pain, nausea, and vomiting. A blockage can be life-threatening.
  • Rarely, your child may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.
  • Rarely, barium can get into your child’s airway causing irritation.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider how the risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-16
Last reviewed: 2018-03-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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