An upper gastrointestinal series is an x-ray test used to define the anatomy of the upper digestive tract. An upper gastrointestinal series involves filling the esophagus, stomach, and small intestines with a white liquid material (barium).

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series (barium swallow), is a radiological test that is used to visualize the structures of the upper digestive system – the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. (If visualization of the remaining parts of the small intestine is necessary, a small bowel follow through can be added to the test.) These structures are observed during the examination, and the images are also saved for further review on x-ray film or as digital images. An upper GI series can reveal conditions such as ulcers, tumors, hiatal hernias, scarring, blockages, and abnormalities of the muscular wall of the gastrointestinal tissues.

Here’s how the test is performed:

  1. A patient will be positioned behind x-ray equipment called a fluoroscope for x-ray exposure.
  2. The patient then is asked to swallow a liquid that contains barium. The barium fills and then coats the lining of the intestinal tract making the adjacent esophagus, stomach and duodenum visible. X-rays of the stomach and intestine done without barium provide very little detail and information.
  3. X-ray images are obtained at different angles through the chest and abdomen. An x-ray machine called a fluoroscope produces these images by sending x-ray radiation through the tissues of the body to a film on the opposite side of the patient’s body. As the radiation penetrates the body, it is absorbed in varying amounts by different body tissues.
  4. Due to differences in their composition, the different organs and certain abnormalities and conditions all become visible on the x-ray through blocking the penetration of the x-ray beam to varying degrees.
  5. The radiologist then examines the x-rays and can identify various normal and abnormal structures of the gastrointestinal system.

This type of exam is performed at select Capitol Imaging Services locations. When scheduling a visit, our personnel will inform you of the necessary preparations for the series. It is very important to follow these instructions as doing so is critical to the success of the test results for the radiologist and for your medical provider.

Click here to learn more about these types of specialty exams performed at Capitol Imaging Services.