An upper gastrointestinal tract exam, also called an upper GI, is an x-ray examination of the esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum. This is performed by using a real-time form of x-ray called fluoroscopy. and an orally ingested contrast material such as barium.

With an orally ingested contract material such as barium, the upper GI tract is coated with the material. The radiologist is then able to view and assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.

When would I get a Upper GI?

An upper GI examination helps evaluate digestive function and can detect:

  • ulcers
  • tumors
  • inflammation of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum
  • hiatal hernias
  • scarring
  • blockages
  • abnormalities of the muscular wall of GI tract.

The procedure is also used to help diagnose the cause of symptoms such as:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • chest and abdominal pain
  • reflux, which is a backward flow of partially digested food and digestive juices
  • unexplained vomiting
  • severe indigestion
  • blood in the stool, which may indicate internal GI bleeding

What Will I Experience?

To ensure the best possible image quality, your stomach must be empty of food. Therefore, you will likely ask you not to eat or drink anything (including any medications taken by mouth, especially antacids) and to refrain from chewing gum after midnight on the day of the examination.

These tests require two different densities of barium drinks and effervescent granules, taken with a small amount of water. The radiodense barium allows the examination of the function and the anatomical lining of the esophagus, stomach and proximal small intestine, also known as the duodenum.

As the patient drinks the liquid barium, which resembles a light-colored milkshake, the radiologist will watch the barium pass through the patient's digestive tract. The exam table will be positioned at different angles and the patient's abdomen may be compressed to help spread the barium. Once the upper GI tract is adequately coated with the barium, x-rays will be taken.

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

An upper GI exam will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.