If you have been experiencing painful swallowing or unexplained weight loss, or your doctor suspects you have a problem within your gullet or small intestines, you may have to have a barium swallow or meal. Barium is a metal compound which does not allow X-ray’s to pass through it, meaning the area is outlined on the image which allows your doctor to see if there is a problem.
A barium swallow or meal is performed as a day case procedure in the imaging department, and is usually performed in the X-ray room.
You will be asked to change into a hospital gown, and then you will be taken to the X-ray room. You will be asked to swallow a white liquid which contains barium. This can taste a little chalky, but is not unpleasant.
Your radiographer or doctor will ask you to move in different positions whilst drinking the barium solution. This allows multiple images to be taken to study your gullet and small intestines.
The test usually takes less than 30 minutes altogether.
You will be asked to stop taking any white or pink stomach medication three days before the X-ray (such as Gaviscon). All other medication should be taken as normal until the night before your appointment, unless you are instructed otherwise.
You will be asked to fast for 4-6 hours before the test to ensure your stomach and small intestines are empty. It is important you follow the instructions given to you in regards to fasting otherwise the test may not be able to be performed.
You should be able to go home not long after the procedure is complete. You may feel a little nauseous from the barium solution, but this will soon pass. It is important you drink plenty of fluids after your procedure, as the barium solution can give you constipation.
As with all procedures, there are some side effects and potential risks. Your doctor or radiographer will discuss any risks with you beforehand.