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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Barium Swallow (upper gastrointestinal series or "upper gi series")

What Happens During the Test?

You wear a hospital gown for the test. At the start of the test, you drink barium, a liquid that looks like a milk shake but does not taste nearly as good (most patients say it tastes like chalk). You might also be asked to swallow some tablets that "fizz," causing air-bubbles to be released in your stomach. This might make you feel like burping, but try not to. You will get better pictures if you can keep yourself from burping.

The x-ray technician may ask you to stand or lie in different positions over the next few minutes, to help spread around the liquid you have swallowed. Most often, the x-ray pictures are taken while you lie on your back on a table. The x-ray machine or the table is moved a few times so it can take pictures of all of the internal structures. You are asked to hold your breath for each picture so that your breathing movement does not blur the image.

From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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