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Upper GI Series

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.


What you need to know about an upper GI series:

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series is an x-ray of the esophagus, stomach, and the upper part of the small intestine. An x-ray that only takes pictures of your throat and esophagus is called a barium swallow. Liquid barium (a white chalky liquid) is given to help the pictures show up more clearly. This test may be done to find the cause of problems such as trouble swallowing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or reflux.

How to prepare for an upper GI series:

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for the test. Adults should not to eat or drink anything, chew gum, or smoke within 8 hours of the test. Children should not eat solid foods within 6 hours of this test. Infants should not eat or drink anything within 4 hours of this test. Your healthcare provider will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of your test.

What will happen during an upper GI series:

  • You will be given 1 to 2 cups of barium liquid to drink. You may lie on a table that moves in different directions. You may also be asked to move into different positions to help the barium move through and coat your throat, esophagus, and stomach. The healthcare provider may also press on your abdomen to help spread the barium.
  • X-ray pictures are taken as the barium passes through your digestive tract. You may be given a cup of baking soda crystals to swallow. These crystals create gas and make your stomach distend (get larger). They may make you want to burp, but you may be asked to hold the burps as x-ray pictures are taken. You may be asked to hold your breath or swallow more barium while x-ray pictures are taken. Follow-up pictures may need to be taken 6 hours after you swallowed the barium.

What will happen after an upper GI series:

You may have bloating or nausea after the test. The barium liquid may cause your bowel movements to turn a gray or white color for 48 to 72 hours after your the test. The barium may also cause constipation. Your healthcare provider may recommend a laxative to relieve constipation. It may also be helpful to drink extra liquids for 12 to 24 hours after the test.

Risks of an upper GI series:

You will be exposed to a low amount of radiation during this test. Radiation can harm body cells. This radiation can be harmful to a developing baby. Tell your healthcare provider if you think or know you are pregnant.

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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.

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