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Barium Swallow

This is an Fluoroscopy also known as screening examination using barium (an x-ray detectable liquid) to assist in the diagnosis of inflammation, ulcers, strictures or pouches, hernias, tumours and polyps in the upper digestive tract.

What is Barium?

Barium is a chalky liquid which is used by radiologists to outline parts of the digestive tract on x-rays. It is x-ray detectable and makes the x-ray image of the digestive tract much clearer to see and is an aid to diagnosing your problem. The patient is given the barium either to drink which will show the oesophagus ( the tube your food travels down into the stomach) the stomach and the small intestine or it can be given rectally as an enema to outline the large bowel.
You will have been sent for a barium meal because you have been suffering with symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Stomach bloating
  • Stomach pains


If you are just having a barium swallow to look at your oesophagus (the tube your food goes down) you will not be able to eat or drink for only a few hours before the procedure.
If you are having a barium meal and or follow through you will be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure.


The risks of the procedure is radiation exposure however the radiation dose you receive will be the same as you would naturally be exposed to over a three year period.

The Procedure:

Will be done in the X-ray department and will normally be done as an outpatient procedure. If you believe you may be pregnant you should inform the staff prior to the commencement of the investigation. When you arrive in the department you will be shown to a cubical and asked to remove your clothing and put a gown on.

  1. You will be taken through to the X-ray room where you will be given the barium to drink it is a thick liquid which usually has a fruit flavour to enhance it.

  2. You will be asked to drink two or three mouthfuls and then positioned in front of the x-ray machine to see how the barium is progressing.

  3. You will be given some granules to eat which fizz up inside your stomach causing gas –try not to burp at this point as the air is enhancing the x-ray images.

  4. You will be moved about and repositioned on the x-ray table and asked to hold your breath whilst a series of x-rays are taken.

  5. The procedure will only take about 10-15 minutes for a barium swallow. Although you may be in the department longer while waiting for x-rays to be developed .If you are having a barium meal and follow through you will be in the department for up to three hours as x-rays will need to be taken at regular intervals as the barium travels through the digestive tract.

  6. The procedure does not cause any pain although you may feel bloated due to the gas generated in your stomach.

  7. You will be advised to eat a high fibre diet and drink plenty of fluids over the next few days as the barium is known to cause constipation.

The results of the scan will be sent to your GP or to the consultant who referred you. The results will be discussed with you when you return for your follow up appointment.

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