Procedures / Barium Swallow


A barium swallow is a diagnostic test used to determine the cause of various conditions like difficulty/painful swallowing, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and bloodstained vomit.

You will be asked to swallow a chalky white substance (barium) that is often mixed with water for easy swallowing. It is a translucent agent that when swallowed coats the inside of your upper GI and make it easy to take pictures with the contrast of highlighted organs. These images contain detailed information that helps your physician evaluate any underlying pathology.

Why is barium swallow test performed?

Your doctor may recommend a barium swallow test to help make a definitive diagnosis of a possible functional or structural problem in the upper GI tract. These abnormalities could be:

  • Inflammation
  • A hiatal hernia
  • Ulcers
  • Blockages
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • Difficulty swallowing or muscle spasms
  • Both benign and cancerous tumours

How to prepare

There are few specific instructions you have to follow before a barium swallow test.

  • Eat a low-fibre diet for 2-3 days before the procedure.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke after midnight (10-12 hours) before the test.
  • Do not take blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin.

What can you expect?

Your physician will refer you to the local radiology centre for a barium swallow test. Now you will be asked to take off your clothing and accessories and wear a hospital gown. A thick paste of barium solution will be given to you to swallow. Your technician will take standard X-ray of your abdomen, heart, and lungs. This procedure may take about 25-30 minutes. You will get the results in several days of your test.

Possible side effects

It is generally a safe test, but there can be occasional complications like any invasive or non-invasive procedure. Some of these include;

  • Allergic reaction to dye may occur in some people
  • You may develop aspiration by accidentally ingesting barium into the trachea (windpipe)

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other healthcare professional. ALWAYS check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment.

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