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General Radiology

Gastrointestinal X-ray 

 What is Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract Radiography?

Upper gastrointestinal tract radiography, also called an upper GI, is an x-ray examination of the esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (also known as the duodenum).  Images are produced using a special form of x-ray called fluoroscopy and an orally ingested contrast material such as barium. 

In addition to drinking barium, some patients are also given baking-soda crystals (similar to Alka Seltzer) to further improve the images.  This procedure is called an air -contrast or double- contrast upper GI.

On occasion, some patients are given other forms of orally ingested contrast, usually containing iodine.  These alternative contrast materials may be used if the patient has recently undergone surgery on the GI tract, or has allergies to other contrast materials.  Our radiologist will determine which type of contrast material will be used.

Fluoroscopy makes it possible to see internal organs in motion.  When the upper GI tract is coated in barium, the radiologist is able to view and assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.

An x-ray examination that evaluates only the esophagus is called a barium swallow. 

What are some common uses of the procedure?

An upper GI examination helps evaluate digestive function and can detect:

-          ulcers

-          tumors

-          inflammation of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum

-          hiatal hernias

-          scarring

-          blockages

-          abnormalities of the muscular wall of GI tract

The procedure is also used to help diagnose the cause and symptoms such as:

-          difficulty swallowing

-          chest and abdominal pain

-          reflux (a backward flow of partially digested food and digestive juices).

-          unexplained vomiting

-          severe indigestion

-          blood in the stool (indicating internal GI bleeding)

How do I prepare for this test?

Your physician will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare for your upper GI.

You should inform your physician of any medications you are taking and if you have any allergies, especially to barium or iodinated contrast materials.  Also inform your doctor about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.

Women should always inform their physician and x-ray technologist if they may be pregnant.

What to expect during an Upper GI?

Please wear loose comfortable,  loose fitting clothes to your exam. You may  be asked to change into a hospital gown for your comfort.  A licensed radiologic technologist and a board certified radiologist guide the patient thru the upper GI series.  As the patient drinks the liquid barium, which resembles a light colored milkshake, the radiologist will watch the barium pass thru the patient's digestive tract on a fluoroscope, a device that projects radiographic images in a movie-like sequence onto a monitor.  The exam table will be positioned at different angles and the patient's abdomen may be compressed to help spread the barium.  Once the upper GI tract is adequately coated with the barium, still x-ray images will be taken as well.

When the examination is complete, you will be asked to wait until our radiologist has determined that all necessary images have been obtained.

The upper GI exam is usually completed within 20 minutes.

What will I experience during and after the procedure?

Occasionally, patients find the thick consistency of the barium unpleasant and difficult to swallow.  The liquid barium has a chalky taste that may be masked somewhat by added flavors.

Being tilted on the examination table and having pressure applied to the abdomen can be uncomfortable for some patients.  The examination may also make you feel bloated.

If you receive gas-producing crystals, you may feel the need to belch.  However, the radiologist and/or technologist will tell you to try to hold the gas in (by swallowing your saliva if necessary) to enhance the detail on the x-ray images.

After the examination, you can resume a regular diet and take orally administered medications unless instructed otherwise by your physician.

The barium may color your stools gray or white for 48 to 72 hours after the procedure.  Sometimes the barium can cause temporary constipation, which is usually treated by an over- the -counter laxative.

Drinking large quantities of fluid for several days following the test will also help.  If you are unable to have a bowel movement or if your bowels undergo significant changes following the exam, you should consult your physician.

Our board certified radiologist will interpret your exam and send the report to your physician within 24 hours.