Learn More About This Important Diagnostic Exam of the Upper Digestive Tract

 An Upper GI (Gastrointestinal) Test is a series of X rays that assist a doctor in diagnosing problems of the upper GI tract. 

The upper GI tract consists of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum which is the beginning part of the small intestine. This test is also sometimes called an Upper GI Series or a Barium Swallow test.

The procedure is helpful in detecting:

  1. Ulcers
  2. Strictures/narrowing of the esophagus
  3.  Hiatal Hernia-The protrusion  of the upper part of the stomach through a tear or weakness into the diaphragm.
  4.  Growths or tumors
  5.  Enlarged veins in the esophagus

Some symptoms which might prompt your doctor to request and Upper GI Series would be:

  1.  Swallowing difficulties
  2.  Chest pain after swallowing
  3.  GERD (Acid Reflux)
  4. Weight Loss
  5. Nausea and/or vomiting along with one of the other symptoms

Preparation for the GI Series consists of not eating or drinking for at least 8 hours prior to the procedure.  Try to schedule your test as early as possible so as to lesson the effects of not eating.  You will be asked about any allergies you may have and females will be asked if they are pregnant.  A radiologist and usually at least one assistant will be present during the exam. The procedure takes approximately 30 minutes and entails a minimum amount of discomfort for most people.

At the beginning of the procedure, you will be asked to swallow about 1-2 ounces of granules(think Pop Rocks). This will fill your stomach up with air.   You will then wash the granules down with a thick milkshake type liquid called bariun. You will be asked to keep the air inside your stomach as best as possible by resisting the urge to burp. As the barium passes through your digestive tract, the assistants will ask you turn turn in different positions on the exam table as X rays are continually being taken.  Usually, additionl barium is consumed at different stages of the procedure. The radiologist will usually finish up the examination by taking x rays of your abdomen and stomach areas. Once the procedure is finished, the radiologist will interpret the x rays and forward a final report to your primary care physician. The stadard turnaround time for a final report is usually 1-2 days.  

After the exam you may feel bloated for awhile, possibly even for the remainder of the day.  The barium may cause some constipation and most likely will make your stools a chalky white color for a day or so.  Overall though, the after effects are minimal and should not cause one to be anxious about getting an Upper GI Series.