Barium Swallow Test
In this test, liquid barium (barium contrast material) is swallowed along with water before a series of X-rays that reveal any abnormalities of the upper and middle gastrointestinal tract. The passage of the barium contrast through the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine is observed using fluoroscopy, which is connected to a video monitor. A number of X-ray pictures are taken at different times, from various angles.
A barium swallow test is usually done to detect the cause of unusual gastrointestinal symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing, abdominal pain, regurgitation of food, or vomiting. It may also be done as a part of investigations for Crohn's disease. The test can help to spot bottlenecks in the intestinal tract (strictures), ulcers, polyps, or tumors. Pyloric stenosis, a condition in which the lower part of the stomach narrows down, can be diagnosed by this diagnostic procedure. It can also reveal blockages or inflamed areas in the intestine, giving an insight into the possible causes of malabsorption syndrome, weight loss, and chronic diarrhea.
Before you undergo this preocedure, make sure that you have informed the doctor about any medication that you are on, especially if you are a diabetic. If you have been allergic to any X-ray contrast medium like barium, let the doctor know about this well in advance. You should not perform this test during pregnancy as the X-rays may affect your unborn child. You should eat a low-fiber diet before the test. Avoid smoking for 24 hours prior to the test.
The doctor will advise you to take a laxative, the previous evening. This will help to clean up your intestines. In case your stomach is not empty, a tube may be inserted through your nose into your stomach to empty it. The test is normally performed in a clinic or hospital by a radiologist or a technician. You are asked to put on a hospital gown and take off your jewelry and even your dentures if you wear them. After a primary X-ray, you need to swallow several mouthfuls of the barium liquid. With the help of fluoroscopy, the flow of barium through the digestive tract is observed.
In the double contrast test, you have to sip the barium liquid using a straw. This will introduce air along with the contrast medium into the stomach, which will help to view the gastric lining very clearly. A thin barium solution is administered for the study of the small intestine. X-ray pictures are taken after every thirty minutes. The whole process takes about 2 to 6 hours to complete. After the test, to clear the barium from your digestive system, you may have to take a laxative and drink plenty of fluids.
To some extent, the barium swallow test does carry a risk of exposure to radiations. However, it is very low. As the barium is not dirctly introduced into the bloodstream, the chances of allergic reactions are minimal. Very rarely, a patient may choke while drinking the contrast medium or the latter may enter the windpipe, causing aspiration pneumonia. Abnormalities that are commonly detected are narrowing of the esophagus, mucosal inflammation, hiatus hernia, or enlarged veins. In some cases, the presence of ulcers or growths in the upper gastrointestinal tract may be revealed.
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