Barium Swallow

What is a Barium Swallow

Barium Swallow Image A barium swallow is a fluoroscopy procedure that allows us to see images of your child's esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. We do this by using an x-ray machine and a contrast agent, which your child will drink.

The radiologist may do a complete Upper GI on your child to better evaluate her upper gastrointestinal tract.

What is fluoroscopy?

Fluoro Tower Image Example of a Fluoro Tower A fluoroscopy procedure is an imaging technique that uses x-rays to create "real-time" or moving images of the body. It helps doctors see how an organ or body system functions. A radiologist (x-ray doctor) and radiologic technologist perform the procedures together.

In most of these types of exams, your child will lie on the table while the x-ray machine, called a fluoro tower, is brought overhead. The fluoro tower has a curtain on it; it's like being in a tent or a small car wash! You, the doctor and your child will be able to see the images on a television monitor in the room.

What should you do prior to the exam?

Your child will need an empty stomach for the barium swallow procedure. Please follow the guidelines below, according to your child’s age:

  • Newborn to 6 months: no food three hours before the exam.
  • 7-24 months: no food four hours before the exam.
  • 24 months and older: no food six hours before the exam.

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. Learn more about how to prepare for your radiology visit.

Note: Parents will be allowed to accompany their 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 your child during the exam, if needed.

What should you expect during the exam?

On average, the procedure will take 15 to 30 minutes.

  • The technologist will ask why the barium swallow is being performed and will explain the procedure to both you and your child.
  • Your child will drink a barium shake, which will make her 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.)
  • The radiologist will use the fluoroscopy machine, or camera, to take x-rays while your child is swallowing the barium and as the barium flows into her stomach. Your child will need to move around in different positions so the machine can take pictures of the correct anatomy. The radiologist and technologist will help guide your child.

If you’d like, our child life specialists will help you prepare your child and support her during the procedure. We can also arrange to have a child life specialist at your child's appointment to explain the procedure in developmentally appropriate ways and to help your child better cope with the stress of the hospital experience.

Radiation safety for fluoroscopic procedures

We are careful to limit the dose of radiation your child receives. Your child will wear a lead shield during the procedure. We also adjust the dose of radiation according to the size of the child and we administer the x-rays in a pulsed, rather than constant fashion to minimize the amount of radiation.

What should you do after the exam?

After the study, it is important to give your child extra fluids for the day because the barium may cause constipation.

If you have 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.