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A barium swallow is a radiographic (X-ray) examination of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, specifically the pharynx (back of mouth and throat) and the esophagus (a hollow tube of muscle extending from below the tongue to the stomach).
Fluoroscopy is often used during a barium swallow. Fluoroscopy is a study of moving body structures — similar to an X-ray "movie."
A barium swallow may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital.
Generally, a barium swallow follows this process:
You'll be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
If you're asked to remove clothing, you'll be given a gown to wear.
You'll be positioned on an X-ray table that can tilt you from a horizontal to an upright position. You may also be asked to change positions (for example, lying on your side, back, or stomach) at intervals during the procedure.
Standard X-rays (control images) of the heart, lung
, and abdomen may be performed first.
The radiologist will ask you to take a swallow of a thickened barium drink. The barium is usually flavored, although it may not be very pleasant tasting.
As you swallow the barium, the radiologist will take single pictures, a series of X-rays, or a video (fluoroscopy) to observe the barium moving through the pharynx.
You may be asked to hold your breath at certain times during the procedure.
You will be given a thinner barium drink to swallow. X-rays and/or fluoroscopy will be used to observe the barium's passage down the esophagus. You may also be asked to swallow a barium tablet — a small, solid pill, which can help to visualize certain structural problems of the esophagus.
Once all required X-rays have been taken, you'll be assisted from the table.
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