What to Expect During an Upper GI X-ray

This examination is usually performed on an outpatient basis and is often scheduled in the morning to reduce your fasting time.

A radiology technician and a radiology assitant will guide you through the upper GI series.

As you drink the liquid barium, which resembles a light-colored milkshake, the radiologist will watch the barium pass through yor digestive tract on a fluoroscope, a device that projects radiographic images in a movie-like sequence onto a monitor.

The exam table will be positioned at different angles and your abdomen may be compressed to help spread the barium. Once the upper GI tract is adequately coated with the barium, still X-rays will be taken and stored for further review.

You will be asked to hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the X-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image.

For a double-contrast upper GI series, you will swallow baking-soda crystals that create gas in the stomach while additional X-rays are taken.

When the examination is complete, you will be asked to wait until the radiologist determines that all the necessary images have been obtained.

Time Consideration

This exam is usually completed within 20 minutes.

Other Factors

You may find the thick consistency of the barium unpleasant and difficult to swallow. The liquid barium has a chalky taste that may be masked somewhat by added flavors such as strawberry or chocolate.

Being tilted on the examination table and having pressure applied to the abdomen can be uncomfortable. The examination also can make you feel bloated.

If you receive gas-producing crystals, you may feel the need to belch. However, the radiologist or technician will tell you to try to hold the gas in (by swallowing your saliva if necessary) to enhance the detail in the X-ray images.

At Sky Ridge Medical Cener, the technologist can minimize your movement by automatically tilting the examining table. These actions ensure that the barium is coating all parts of the upper GI tract. As the procedure continues, the technologist or radiology assistant may ask you to drink more barium. You may hear the mechanical noises of the radiographic apparatus moving into place during the exam.

After the examination, you can resume a regular diet and take orally administered medications unless told otherwise by your doctor.

The barium may color your stools gray or white for 48 to 72 hours after the procedure. Sometimes the barium can cause temporary constipation, which is usually treated by an over-the-counter laxative. Drinking large quantities of fluids for several days following the test can also help. If you are unable to have a bowel movement or if your bowel habits undergo any significant changes following the exam, you should contact your doctor.

Limitations of an Upper GI X-ray

Mild irritation of the lining of the stomach or esophagus is difficult to detect, as well as ulcers smaller than 2 inch in diameter. The test will detect larger ulcers. It also can suggest the presence of underlying infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, the most common cause of ulcers; but additional noninvasive tests such as a blood test or breath test may be required to confirm this infection. Finally, biopsies of any abnormal areas cannot be performed with this test.