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Barium Swallow


Barium swallow, or esophagram, is an x-ray procedure used to examine your esophagus. Liquid barium is a white, chalky solution that helps healthcare providers see the esophagus more clearly. The esophagus attaches your throat to your stomach.


Before your procedure:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • An IV is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.

During your procedure:

  • Your healthcare provider will give you medicine that will help relax your esophagus and prevent spasms. Healthcare providers will take x-rays while you stand, before you drink the barium. In a single contrast barium swallow, you will drink up to 2 large barium mixtures. In a double contrast barium swallow, you will first drink a mixture of baking soda and an anti-foam agent. These substances produce gas to help expand your stomach and bowel. Pictures will be taken to see how the gas moves inside your stomach and bowel. Then, you will drink the barium mixture.
  • Healthcare providers will ask you sit or stand in different positions while they take pictures. You will then be asked to lie down on a table that will turn you in different positions. As the table moves, the barium will spread inside your stomach and bowels and more pictures will be taken.

After your procedure:

You will be taken to a room to rest until you are fully awake. Healthcare providers will monitor you closely for any problems. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. When your healthcare provider sees that you are okay, you will be able to go home or be taken to your hospital room.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids will help flush out any barium left in your body.
  • Medicines:
    • Enemas or laxatives help empty your bowels quickly to prevent constipation.
    • Bowel movement softeners make it easier for you to have a bowel movement. You may need this medicine to prevent constipation.


  • You may have abdominal cramps, vomiting, or problems swallowing. The barium may become hard and cause a blockage in your bowels. Your esophagus may tear. The barium may leak out of this tear or go down your airway. If the barium goes down your airway, it can block oxygen from your heart and brain. This can be life-threatening.
  • Without this procedure, your condition may not be diagnosed. Correct treatment may not be given. Your signs and symptoms may get worse. You may have trouble eating, digesting food, and having a bowel movement.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.