A barium swallow is a special type of x-ray test that helps your doctor take a close look at the pharynx, which is the back of your mouth and throat, and the esophagus, which is the tube that extends from the back of the tongue down to the stomach. This is performed by using a real-time form of x-ray called fluoroscopy.

To do a barium swallow, you swallow a chalky white substance known as barium. It’s often mixed with water to make a thick drink that looks like a milkshake. When it’s swallowed, this liquid coats the inside of your upper gastrointestinal tract, also called the upper GI.

When would I get a Barium Swallow?

Your medical provider may determine that it is appropriate for you to undergo a barium swallow in order to help diagnose potential problems that make it difficult for you to swallow. Your provider may also determine that this exam may confirm that you have a disorder of the upper GI. This tract includes the esophagus, the stomach and the first part of the intestine called the duodenum.

A barium swallow may help diagnose conditions such as:

  • hiatal hernia
  • inflammation
  • blockages
  • muscle disorders that could lead to difficulty swallowing or spasms
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • ulcers
  • benign and malignant tumors.

What Will I Experience?

It’s important to follow the dietary guidelines your doctor gives you before your procedure. You are not supposed to eat or drink anything for six hours before your procedure. You may take small sips of water up until two hours before your procedure.

Your technologist will position you on an x-ray table. He or she may ask you to move your body position as the technologist takes standard x-rays of your heart, lungs and abdomen.

Then, your technologist will give you a barium drink to swallow. The technologist will then take a single x-ray, a series of x-rays, or a fluoroscopy to watch how the barium moves through your pharynx. You might have to hold your breath at certain times to prevent any movement from disrupting the x-ray images.

Next, the technologist will give you a thinner barium drink to swallow. Via fluoroscopy, the barium is watched to see how it moves down the esophagus.

A barium swallow study will take approximately 30 minutes to complete.