Barium swallow

Barium swallow
Barium swallow
ICD-9-CM 87.61
Normal barium swallow exam. Interactive version here.

A barium swallow is a medical imaging procedure used to examine the upper GI (gastrointestinal) tract, which includes the esophagus and, to a lesser extent, the stomach.



Barium sulfate is a type of contrast medium that is visible to x-rays. As the patient swallows the barium suspension, it coats the esophagus with a thin layer of the barium. This enables the hollow structure to be imaged.

This is commonly used with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate crystals) to produce gas (see Reactions of sodium bicarbonate). As gas is low in density, and the X-rays pass through very easily, they will appear as black patches, as opposed to the white produced by relatively dense barium. As such, it is extremely useful in providing a contrast to the barium, to produce a double contrast image, to allow better visualisation of the contrasting features within the mucosal layer of the esophagus.

Barium sulfate is irritable outside the gastrointestinal tract. In cases where a leak is suspected or desired to be demonstrated, contrast imaging involving the use of water-soluble contrast media containing iodine is used.

As with all X-rays, the barium swallow technique employs radiation, and may irradiate the patient unnecessarily. The barium swallow should not be used unless required, and, although it cannot be replaced by endoscopy as for the barium enema, it should be avoided as much as possible for children and pregnant women.


The patient is asked to drink a suspension of barium sulfate. Fluoroscopy images are taken as the barium is swallowed. This is typically at a rate of 2 or 3 frames per second. The patient is asked to swallow the barium a number of times, whilst standing in different positions, i.e. AP, oblique and lateral, to assess the 3D structure as best as possible. This technique induces gas production in the esophagus, and can be uncomfortable to the subject.


Zenker's diverticulum.

Pathologies detected on a Barium Swallow include:

See also


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Barium swallow — An upper gastrointestinal series (barium swallow) is an X ray test used to define the anatomy of the upper digestive tract. Women who are or may be pregnant should notify the doctor requesting the procedure and the radiology staff. The test… …   Medical dictionary

  • barium swallow — A series of x rays of the esophagus. The x ray pictures are taken after the person drinks a solution that contains barium. The barium coats and outlines the esophagus on the x ray. Also called esophagram and upper GI series …   English dictionary of cancer terms

  • barium swallow — /bɛəriəm ˈswɒloʊ/ (say bairreeuhm swoloh) noun a preparation of barium sulphate ingested before a radiological examination to show up any abnormality of the oesophagus …   Australian-English dictionary

  • Barium meal — A barium meal, also known as an upper gastrointestinal series is a procedure in which radiographs of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum are taken after barium sulfate is ingested by a patient. Barium meals are useful in the diagnosis of… …   Wikipedia

  • Barium follow-through — A barium follow through procedure is a type of medical imaging technique. It is used to evaluate the presence of disease in a person s small intestine.ExaminationThe patient drinks a contrast medium containing barium sulfate. This contrast medium …   Wikipedia

  • barium meal — noun count BRITISH a substance that you swallow before having an X RAY of your stomach …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • barium meal — noun : a solution of barium sulfate that is swallowed by a patient to facilitate fluoroscopic or roentgenographic diagnosis * * * barium meal noun A mixture of barium sulphate swallowed to render the alimentary canal opaque to X rays • • • Main… …   Useful english dictionary

  • barium — ba|ri|um [ˈbeəriəm US ˈber ] n [U] [Date: 1800 1900; : Greek; Origin: barytes weight ] 1.) a soft silver white metal that is used to make ↑pigments (=dry coloured powders used to make paints) . It is a chemical ↑element : symbol Ba. 2.) a barium… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • barium meal — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms barium meal : singular barium meal plural barium meals medical British a substance that you swallow before having an x ray of your stomach …   English dictionary

  • barium — A metallic, alkaline, divalent earth element; atomic no. 56, atomic wt. 137.327. Insoluble salts are often used in radiology as contrast media. [G. barys, heavy] b. chloride …   Medical dictionary

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