Upper gastrointestinal tract radiography, also called an upper GI, is a painless X-ray examination of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum). This exam uses a special form of X-ray called fluoroscopy and contrast material (barium) that you swallow.
Fluoroscopy is like an X-ray movie, making it possible to see internal organs in motion. When the upper GI tract is coated with barium, the radiologist is able to view and assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
Upper GI exams are performed at the Yeatts Radiology Center on Emerson Hospital’s main campus in Concord.
Types of upper GI X-ray exams
There are several types of upper GI tract X-ray exams:
- A barium swallow examines the pharynx and/or esophagus to see how food moves toward the stomach. 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. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- A modified barium swallow is performed with a speech therapist and radiologist. This procedure looks at the swallowing mechanisms with different liquid and food textures.
- An upper GI series examines the esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine. The procedure usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
- A small bowel series examines the small intestine (small bowel). The procedure usually takes 2 to 4 hours, depending upon how long it takes for the barium to reach the colon.
Why an upper GI is performed
Upper GI X-ray exams are used to help find the cause of problems such as:
- Acid reflux
- Swallowing difficulties
- Unexplained vomiting, nausea or abdominal discomfort
- Severe indigestion
This test can detect signs of problems such as ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernia, or blockages or narrowing of the upper GI tract.
What an upper GI X-ray exam involves
When you arrive for your appointment, you will be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You will also be asked to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses and any metal objects that might interfere with the X-ray images.
During your exam, a special type of X-ray camera called a fluoroscope beams radiation through your upper GI tract while you drink a thick liquid (barium sulfate). The fluoroscopy transmits continuous images to a video monitor, enabling the radiologist to see the barium as it moves through your upper GI tract. The images are recorded on a computer.
Preparing for your upper GI exam
For the best-possible image quality, your stomach must be empty of food, so you should not eat or drink anything after midnight before your exam. This includes any non-prescription medications taken by mouth, especially antacids, and you should refrain from chewing gum and smoking.
You can take your usual prescribed oral medications with limited amounts of water.
Be sure to inform your doctor about any medications you are taking and if you have any allergies, especially to barium contrast materials.
Importantly, if you are a woman, inform your physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
After your exam is completed, you can resume your regular diet and take oral medications unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
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 fluids for several days following your test can also help.
To obtain test results
By law, this requires a signed medical records release form and photo identification. To make a request, please call:
To Schedule an appointment
To schedule an appointment for an upper-GI test, please call 978-287-3003