Doctor taking blood pressure of patient.

Upper Gastrointestinal Series

Also known as: Barium Swallow

At Providence, we believe in diagnosing and treating digestive conditions quickly, painlessly and comfortably. In order to treat these digestive issues, your doctor could recommend an upper gastrointestinal series, also known as an upper GI or barium swallow.

An upper gastrointestinal series (upper GI) is a diagnostic X-ray procedure. It is used to inspect and diagnose issues within the upper digestive system (the esophagus, stomach and duodenum).

An upper GI is often referred to as a Barium Swallow, because patients ingest barium as a contrast dye, in order to make the upper GI appear on X-ray scans.

An upper GI is useful in evaluating symptoms of stomach conditions, such as upper gastrointestinal diseases, hernias, ulcers, tumors and abdominal pain. The procedure is also used to help diagnose the severity of esophageal and stomach cancer.

An upper GI follows the same procedural steps as an X-ray scan. However, unlike a standard X-ray, the upper GI takes anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. This is because the scan has to image the barium as it flows through your system.

The procedure will also require you to make slight dietary changes a few days before your appointment. This is to ensure accurate and safe results.

During the procedure, you will sit in a chair in a dedicated X-ray room. Your radiologist will take several x-ray images of your body as the barium flows through your system. The chair may tilt in certain directions to help the barium flow easily and comfortably through your system.

Because an upper GI requires the use of contrast dye, some side effects and reactions may occur. These include a warm, metallic taste in the mouth, lightheadedness and constipation.

Upper GI procedures also involve radiation exposure. At Providence, we use the latest in X-ray technology to minimize this risk while still maintaining a good image quality for an accurate diagnosis. In fact, the exposure to radiation is so limited that the benefits to having an X-ray almost always outweigh the risk.