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An upper GI series is an imaging test that uses a contrast mediumcontrast mediumA substance used in some diagnostic procedures to help parts of the body show up better on x-rays or other imaging tests. (barium sulphate) and x-rays to produce pictures of the upper GI tract. The upper GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach and upper small intestine.
Barium is a chalky, white liquid that coats the inside of the organs and shows their outline clearly on an x-ray. A special x-ray (fluoroscopy imaging) creates a moving image of barium as it passes through the upper GI tract.
An upper GI series is also called a barium swallow.
An upper GI series may be done to:
An upper GI series is usually done as an outpatient procedure in the x-ray department of a hospital or clinic. It takes 20–45 minutes to take images of the esophagus and stomach. A follow-through study of the small intestine can also be done, which can take several hours.
During the upper GI series:
After the upper GI series, a mild laxative may be needed to get rid of the barium and prevent constipation.
X-rays involve low levels of ionizing radiation, which has the potential to cause cancer and other defects. The number and complexity of x-rays needed to diagnose and determine the extent of a disease can vary. Even with multiple and repeated x-rays, the total dose of radiation and the associated risk is small.
X-rays are strictly monitored and controlled to make sure they use the smallest amount of radiation possible. The expected benefits of the x-rays must always outweigh any possible risk for the x-rays to be done.
On rare occasions, the contrast dye may cause an allergic reaction.
An upper GI series can show:
The doctor will decide whether further tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment are needed.
Being prepared for a test or procedure can reduce anxiety, increase cooperation and help the child develop coping skills. Parents and caregivers can help prepare children by explaining to them what will happen, including what they will see, feel and hear during the test.
The preparation you can provide for an upper GI series depends on the age and experience of the child. See the following for more age-specific information on helping children cope with tests and treatment.