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Barium Swallow

Focuses on the esophagus and its entry into the stomach.  This may include an evaluation of the swallowing mechanism with liquid consistencies.  Indications include, but are not limited to:

  • Non-cardiac causes of chest pain
  • Symptomatic or suspected gastroesophageal reflux
  • Esophageal spasm / tumor
  • Suspected tear following an Endoscopic dilation

The barium swallow procedure shows the form and function of your pharynx (back of mouth and throat), esophagus (the hollow muscular tube extending from your throat to your stomach), and stomach.  Procedure Duration:  45 minutes.

Patient Preparation:
There is no preparation for this procedure.  Upon arrival to the radiology department, you will change into a gown and robe provided by the hospital.  You are required to remove all clothing and jewelry above the waist.  You may keep your pants on.  Your privacy and comfort will be maintained at all times.

If you are a woman of childbearing age, the technologist will ask if there is any possibility of pregnancy prior to the start of the procedure.

During the procedure:
A doctor of radiology (radiologist) and registered technologist(s) will perform the procedure.  Please feel free to ask any questions at any time during your procedure.
Your technologist will go over some medical history and your medication list with you prior to the procedure.   She/he will explain to you what your procedure requires.  Your technologist will assist the doctor and you during the procedure.

The x-ray table moves and tilts.  It is attached to a fluoroscope, an x-ray unit that works with a television/computer screen.  The table is in the upright position where you will stand on a very narrow footboard.  The radiologist will then instruct you on what to do, step by step, while positioning you in front of the x-ray machine.

You may be asked to swallow "fizzy" granules and a small amount of water to fill your esophagus and stomach with gas/air. This expands your esophagus and stomach to help visualize all sides of your organs. Please hold the urge to burp!
The doctor will give you several types of liquid barium sulfate to drink.  Barium is a harmless substance that will highlight your esophagus, stomach and part of your small intestines by absorbing x-ray.  The taste is chalky and it feels very heavy both in the cup and in your stomach.  If you feel uncomfortable during the procedure, tell the radiologist.

The doctor will instruct you on exactly what to do.  While you drink he/she will be taking live video x-ray images of you.  The doctor may tilt the table until you are lying flat.  He/she may ask you to roll over to your stomach and drink more barium while you are lying down continuing to take images as you do so.  In addition, you are sometimes required to swallow a barium pill to see if there is any abnormal narrowing of the esophagus.

Once the fluoroscopic portion of the procedure is complete, the technologist may take additional x-rays while you are drinking barium.  You will be asked to drink continuously during the exposure to ensure your esophagus is filled with the barium.  The technologist will provide discharge instructions in both verbal and in written form.  Then you will be escorted to the changing room to get dressed and then out of the department through reception.

Post-procedure Information:
The radiologist (doctor) will read the images and dictate a report.  Your physician will receive a report of the findings within 3 business days and should advise you of the results.

***Important*** Drink plenty of water (8-10 cups/day) for a few days following the procedure to avoid constipation and blockage. The barium will make your stools white for a few days. This is normal.

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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100