Barium swallow procedures are exams that are used to determine why a person is having difficulty or pain while swallowing, weight loss, vomiting with blood, and other abdominal issues. Barium sulfate is metallic and can show up on X-rays. Doctors use it to see if there are any blockages or other issues in the throat or along the esophagus. It is an outpatient procedure with little to no side effects.
A patient may need a barium swallow if they are experiencing problems while swallowing while eating or soon after eating. Many patients who undergo this testing experience painful swallowing, stomach ache, spells of bloody vomiting, bloody stools, and abdominal pain. If doctors suspect that the problem may be in the esophagus or stomach, they will use a barium swallow to find the cause of the problem.
Doctors will ask patients to prepare for a barium swallow by clearing out their stomachs and digestive tracts as much as possible. Patients may be asked to eat a high-fiber diet for three to five days before the test. Patients will also have to remove any jewelry before the test. Some doctors may also request that patients fast 12 hours before the test.
During the procedure, patients will change into their hospital robes and drink a chalky drink that contains the barium. Many patients have no problem with the drink, while others struggle to get it down. After the drink is gone, patients will be taken to an X-ray room where photos will be taken. The X-ray can see the barium and will track its way through the body. The table that the patient is lying on will be twisted and turned so the X-ray technician can get X-rays from different angles and views. The procedure lasts as long as it takes the barium to flow through the body and into the stomach. It may take longer for some patients than others, but most procedures do not last more than an hour.
Most patients do not experience any complications during or after a barium swallow procedure. When the patient returns home, they can normally resume a normal diet and exercise routine. Because the barium is white and chalky, stools may appear light-colored for a few days after the procedure. Once the barium has been removed from the body, stools should return to normal. Patients who experience pain or other problems after a barium swallow procedure should contact their doctors.
The barium swallow test is not a treatment but an exam. It can determine if there is a need for medication, surgery, or other health treatments. Doctors perform barium swallow tests regularly, and the results of tests are usually available within a couple of hours after the procedure is complete. Patients should not experience any discomfort during or after the procedure. Any side effects should go away after a few hours. A barium swallow test can detect polyps, cysts, tumors, abnormal growth, blockages, and ulcers.