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Alternative Names Return to topGI series; Barium swallow x-ray; Upper GI series
Definition Return to top
An upper GI and small bowel series is a set of x-rays taken to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
See also: Barium enema
How the Test is Performed Return to top
An upper GI and small bowel series is done in a medical office or hospital radiology department.
You may be given an injection of a medication that will temporarily slow bowel movement, so structures can be more easily seen on the x-rays.
Before the x-rays are taken, you must drink 16 - 20 ounces of a millkshake-like drink that contains a substance called barium. An x-ray method called fluroscopy tracks how the barium moves through your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Pictures are taken with you in a variety of positions. You may be sitting or standing.
The test usually takes around 3 hours. However, in some cases, it may take up to 6 hours to complete.
A GI series may include this test or a barium enema.
How to Prepare for the Test Return to top
You may be told to change your diet for 2 or 3 days before the test. Usually, you can not eat for period of time before the test.
Be sure to ask your health care provider if there are any medication restrictions. Generally, you can continue medications you take by mouth. Never make any changes in your medications without first talking to your health care provider.
You will be asked to remove all jewelry on your neck, chest, or abdomen before the test.
How the Test Will Feel Return to top
The x-ray may cause mild bloating but usually causes no discomfort. The barium milkshake feels chalky as you drink it.
Why the Test is Performed Return to top
This test is done to determine if you have a structural or functional problem in the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.
Normal Results Return to top
The esophagus, stomach, and small intestine are normal in size, shape, and movement.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean Return to top
Risks Return to top
There is low radiation exposure, which carries a very small risk of cancer. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.
Pregnant women should usually not have this test. Children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.
Barium may cause constipation. Consult your health care provider if the barium has not passed through your system by 2 or 3 days after the exam.
Considerations Return to top
The upper GI series should be done after other x-ray procedures, because the barium that remains in the body may block details in other imaging tests.
References Return to top
Caroline DF, Kendzierski RM. The stomach. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008: chap 31.
Pickhardt PJ. Diagnostic imaging procedures in gastroenterology. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 135.Update Date: 11/2/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.