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A barium swallow or upper gastrointestinal series (UGI) is an X-ray test used to examine the upper digestive tract (esophagus, stomach and small intestines). Since these internal organs are not normally visible on X-rays, you will be asked to swallow a liquid suspension (barium) that shows up on X-rays. The barium will temporarily coat the inside lining of your esophagus, stomach and intestine, allowing the outline of these organs to be visible on the X-ray images. This test is typically conducted prior to bariatric surgery to identify inflammation or ulcers.

What to Expect

  • To prepare for the test, you should refrain from eating and drinking the night before your test, as any food in your stomach and intestine could prevent your physician from seeing a clear outline of these organs. Tell your physician about any medications you are currently taking, and let them know if you could be pregnant.
  • Prior to the start of the test, you will be asked to drink barium, which is a thick, white liquid that some patients describe as “chalky.” You might also be given some tablets to swallow. These tablets fizz, causing air bubbles to be released in your stomach. This might make you feel like belching, but you should try not to, as this can affect the quality of the X-ray image.
  • The radiologic technician or technologist will likely ask you to stand or lie in different positions during the test. This helps to properly disperse the liquid you have swallowed. Most often, the tech will take the actual X-ray images while you lie on your back on a table. You will be asked to hold your breath for each picture because the motion associated with breathing can blur the image.
  • After the test, you can eat normally and perform normal activities. You should drink more water than usual to help clear out the barium and to prevent constipation, which can be a side effect of the test. Your stool may appear light in color for a couple of days.

Test results will be ready in two or three days. If any risk factors or underlying conditions are detected, your surgeon will address these issues before performing your bariatric procedure.

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