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Barium Swallow

What Is a Barium Swallow?

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:

Barium Swallow Risks and Side Effects

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 8/30/2017
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Barium Swallow:

Barium Swallow - Experience

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Barium Swallow - Test Results

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Swallowing problem (dysphagia) diagnosis

The evaluation of dysphagia begins with a complete medical history and physical examination. When taking the medical history, physician will ask questions regarding the duration, onset, and severity of symptoms as well as the presence of associated symptoms or chronic medical conditions that can help determine the cause of the dysphagia.

Some specific diagnostic tests frequently are performed to evaluate the esophagus and its function:

  • An esophagram or barium swallow is an X-ray imaging test used to visualize the structures of the esophagus. The patient swallows liquid barium while X-ray images are obtained. The barium fills and then coats the lining of the esophagus so that it can diagnose anatomical abnormalities such as tumors. It also allows the radiologist to evaluate the movement of food and liquid through the esophagus and to diagnose functional abnormalities such as achalasia.
  • Videofluoroscopy or videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) is an alternative test to the barium swallow that uses video X-ray images of the swallowing process. It is better able to evaluate the more subtle muscular abnormalities that can affect swallowing than the barium swallow.
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