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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.


The week before your procedure:

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.
  • Arrange a ride home. Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your surgery or procedure. Do not drive yourself home.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to stop using aspirin or any other prescribed or over-the-counter medicine before your procedure or surgery.
  • Bring your medicine bottles or a list of your medicines when you see your healthcare provider. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Tell your provider if you use any herbs, food supplements, or over-the-counter medicine.
  • Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast solution.
  • You may need blood, urine, or bowel movement tests before your procedure. You may also need a chest x-ray. Talk to your healthcare provider about these or other tests you may need. Write down the date, time, and location for each test.

The day before your procedure:

Ask your healthcare provider about directions for eating and drinking. Do not eat or drink dairy products. Limit sugar. You may need to drink clear liquids, such as gelatin, broth, or clear fruit juice.

The night before your procedure:

Do not eat or drink 12 hours before your procedure.

The day of your procedure:

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medicine on the day of your procedure. These medicines include insulin, diabetic pills, high blood pressure pills, or heart pills. Bring a list of all the medicines you take, or your pill bottles, with you to the hospital.
  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives healthcare providers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.
  • Healthcare providers may insert an intravenous tube (IV) into your vein. A vein in the arm is usually chosen. Through the IV tube, you may be given liquids and medicine.
  • An anesthesiologist will talk to you before your surgery. You may need medicine to keep you asleep or numb an area of your body during surgery. Tell healthcare providers if you or anyone in your family has had a problem with anesthesia in the past.


What will happen:

  • 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.


  • You cannot make it to your procedure.
  • You have a fever.
  • You get a cold or the flu.
  • You have questions or concerns about your procedure.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • Your symptoms get worse.


  • 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.

Care Agreement

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.