What is a Barium Swallow Test?

A Barium Swallow is basically a test that is performed to detect any pathological abnormalities that may be present in the area of the abdomen and esophagus region. It is an imaging procedure which is used quite commonly in cases of upper gastrointestinal disturbances. A barium swallow test is recommended if the patient is experiencing the following symptoms of- Vomiting, severe abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing.

A series of x-rays are taken to get images of the esophagus, upper part of the abdomen and small intestine.

There are certain diet restrictions that the patient must follow prior to the test. The patient is asked to consume a low fibre diet. Any kind of medical restrictions have to be followed with the physician’s consent.

The patient is asked to avoid eating anything few hours prior to the test.

How is the Barium swallow test performed?

The patient is asked to consume a drink containing a mixture of barium sulphate prior to the test. Barium sulphate is used because it is metallic in nature and will be seen very clearly in the x-ray.

A series of fluoroscopy images are taken as the drink is being consumed. A series of 2-3 images are taken per swallow of the mixture.

The patient may feel a slight bloating sensation while drinking the mixture and the patient will get some amount of gas in his esophagus but otherwise there is no harm in consumption of the drink.

The fluoroscopic images will track the movement of the barium sulphate mixture through the esophagus and the upper portion of the stomach.

The images are taken in various positions to get the entire image of the abnormality properly.

The entire procedure may last for as long as three to four hours. After the procedure certain health care instructions must be followed by the patient at home. Due to the consumption of barium the patient may experience certain difficulties in passing stools. Hence the patient is advised to have a high fibre diet.

The patient is advised to drink a lot of fluids.

The following abnormal conditions can be detected by a Barium swallow test:

In the esophagus following conditions can be seen in the x-rays:

1) Ulcers

2) Esophageal Cancer

3) Hiatus hernia

In the abdominal region the following abnormalities can be detected:

1) Gastric Cancer

2) Gastric ulcers and cases of gastritis can be detected.

3) Certain precancerous polyps in the abdomen can be detected by this test.

4) Gastro-esophageal reflux disease.

Risks of the Barium swallow test:

There are no risks as such with this test, but this test is contraindicated in pregnant women and is not carried out regularly in children.

A few complications can occur, such as:

1) Anaphylactic reaction (allergy) may occur in people who are allergic to barium.

2) While consuming the mixture, the barium might accidentally go into the trachea, causing breathing difficulties. The patient may choke on the barium.

After the test as mentioned above, due to the barium consumption the patient may get constipated.

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