Radiology

Barium Swallow

Please be sure to read our general information about fluoroscopy before exploring the details about this procedure.

Barium Swallow
Barium Swallow
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What is a barium swallow?

What should you do prior to the exam?

What should you do when you arrive?

What should you expect during the exam?

What should you do after the exam?

Test results

What is a barium swallow?

A barium swallow is a procedure that primarily evaluates your child's esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

In order to obtain more information on the upper gastrointestinal tract, the radiologist may perform a complete Upper GI on a patient when a barium swallow has been ordered.

This exam is obtained through the use of fluoroscopy and a contrast agent, taken by mouth.

What should you do prior to the exam?

A barium swallow must be done on an empty stomach. This means that your child cannot have anything to eat or drink by mouth or tube. The number of hours that your child cannot eat depends on their age. The times are as follows:

NPO required prior to exam:

Length of Precedure: 15 - 30 minutes

If your child has a noted allergy to radiographic contrast, additional preparations may be necessary.

Dress your child comfortably, in clothes that are easily removed. Your child will be given a gown to change into for the procedure.

You may want to bring a snack or drink for your child to have after the exam.

Note: Parents will be allowed to accompany the child into the exam room, other arrangements should be made for siblings.

Women who are pregnant or may be pregnant will be asked to leave the exam room during the procedure. Please make sure that there is someone else available to accompany the child during the exam, if needed.

What should you do when you arrive for the exam?

If your appointment is scheduled at the Main Hospital:

You must check in to Outpatient Registration, on the third floor of the Main Hospital, 30 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment. This is where your registration process occurs.

The law requires that you bring with you a prescription from your doctor's office stating the exam to be done and the reason for it.

If your insurance requires you to have a referral, it must be presented at the time of registration. Proof of insurance will also need to be provided at this time.

Once the registration process is completed, the Radiology Department will be notified. A radiologic technologist will come out to the central registration area and bring you and your child to the Radiology exam room.

If your appointment is scheduled at the Pediatric Imaging Center at King of Prussia:

You must check in at the main registration desk, located in the main waiting room, 30 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment. This is where your registration process occurs.

The law requires that you bring a prescription from your doctor's office stating the exam to be done and the reason for it.

If your insurance requires a referral, it must be presented at the time of registration. Proof of insurance will also need to be provided at this time.

Once the registration process is completed, you will be directed to the Radiology waiting room. The Fluoroscopy Technologist will be notified and will come out and bring you and your child to the Radiology exam room.

What should you expect during the exam?

The technologist will ask why the barium swallow is being performed and explain the procedure to both you and your child. Your child will need to drink a barium shake, which will make the esophagus and stomach visible on the x-ray screen. This shake has a natural strawberry flavor, and we can also mix it with chocolate syrup as an extra option for your child. (Please tell us if your child has an allergy to chocolate).

X-rays will be taken while your child is swallowing the barium, and as the barium flows into the stomach. The radiologist does this by using the fluoroscopy machine, or camera, to follow the barium where it goes. Your child will need to move around in different positions to see the correct anatomy. The radiologist and technologist will help guide your child. This exam takes an average of 30 minutes.

Child Life Specialists are available to answer questions you might have about how to prepare and support your child during the procedure. A child life specialist can also be present at the time of your child's appointment to explain the procedure in developmentally appropriate ways using well established preparation materials. The specialist can also be available to help implement distraction techniques to help your child better cope with the stress of the hospital experience. Please call 215-590-2001 or click the link above for more information. If your child's procedure is scheduled for the Pediatric Imaging Center at King of Prussia, you can call the Child Life Specialist directly at 215-590-3069.

What should you do after the exam?

After the study, it is important to mildly increase your child's fluid intake for the day, because the barium may cause constipation.

If there are any problems or questions about constipation please call your Primary Care Physician.

When your child does have a bowel movement, it may appear white or grayish—do not be alarmed!  The barium may cause this discoloration. The barium has no nutritional value.

Test results

The images from your child's exam are interpreted on the same day and a report sent to your physician's office.

If your physician has any questions regarding the report, he/she may call 215-590-2584.

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