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Barium Swallow

Barium Swallow Introduction

Patient Comments

A barium swallow is a test that may be used to determine the cause of painful swallowing, difficulty with swallowing, abdominal pain, bloodstained vomit, or unexplained weight loss.

Barium sulfate is a metallic compound that shows up on X-rays and is used to help see abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach. When taking the test, you drink a preparation containing this solution. The X-rays track its path through your digestive system.

These problems can be detected with a barium swallow:

  • Narrowing or irritation of the esophagus (for example, Schatski's ring)
  • Disorders of swallowing (dysphagia - difficulty swallowing), spasms of the esophagus or pharynx
  • Hiatal hernia (an internal defect that causes the stomach to slide partially into the chest)
  • Abnormally enlarged veins in the esophagus (varices) that cause bleeding
  • Ulcers
  • Tumors
  • Polyps (growths that are usually not cancerous, but develop into cancer)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Barium Swallow Risks

A barium swallow is generally a safe test, but like any procedure, there are occasionally complications. Your doctor should be advised of problems so you can be treated right away. Following are some of these complications:

  • Allergic reaction or anaphylaxis may occur in people who are allergic to the barium drink.
  • Constipation may develop.
  • You may accidentally get barium into the trachea (windpipe). The medical term for this is aspiration.

Barium Swallow Preparation

  • Learn about the barium swallow exam: who will perform it, where it will be performed, and how long it will take.
  • Home care: You may be asked to eat a low-fiber diet for 2 to 3 days before the barium swallow test. You will be asked not to eat or smoke after midnight before the exam.
  • Before the barium swallow test: You will wear a hospital gown and told to remove all jewelry including body jewelry such as nipple and belly-button rings, dentures, hair clips, or other objects that might show up on an X-ray. You will receive a form requesting your consent to perform the test. Read this form carefully. You should make sure that you understand the form and agree with it before signing it. Ask your doctor any questions you have before you sign the form.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2015
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