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Information for Patients Requiring a Barium Follow Through

This information leaflet has been produced to give you general information and hopes to answer most of your questions prior to attending for a Barium Follow Through. It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion. If after reading it you have concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

Please contact the radiology nurses on the number provided prior to your procedure if:

  • You are, or might be, pregnant
  • You weigh more than 200kg or 31 stone

Why do I need this procedure?

You have been referred by your doctor for a Barium Follow Through examination. This is an examination used to take x-ray pictures of the stomach and small bowel. This also involves using a white liquid called Barium. We watch the barium as it passes through the stomach and small  bowel and look for any areas of narrowing or evidence of inflammation.

What is a Barium Follow Through?

A Barium Follow Through is an examination to look at your stomach and small bowel. This is part of the bowel between your stomach and your large bowel.

The small intestine is not seen on ordinary x-rays so you need to drink a liquid called Barium to coat the inside of your bowel allowing it to be seen on the x-rays.

Barium follow through is used to diagnose disorders of the small intestine, such as ulcers, tumours, and inflammatory bowel disease, a group of disorders that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

How do I know if this is a suitable procedure for me?

Your doctor has suggested this as the most suitable test for you.

You will be asked to give your verbal consent for the procedure to go ahead following a discussion. This may be with a radiographer (qualified professional specialising in taking x-rays) or the radiologist (a doctor who performs procedures using x-rays and reads the images produced).

There will be plenty of time before the procedure to answer any questions you may have.

Can I take my medication as normal?

Most medication can be taken as normal. It is best to bring your medication with you and take it straight after the test, lf you need to take your medication with food, bring a sandwich or a biscuit with you.

If you have diabetes you will need a morning appointment. Please contact the x-ray department if you have been sent an appointment time for later than 11am.

What happens during the procedure?

Before you arrive

The procedure is carried out as a day case and you don’t need to be admitted to hospital for the procedure.

It is important that your stomach and small intestine are empty for the test. So we ask you not to eat or drink anything for six hours before your appointment.

You should arrive at the Radiology department 10 minutes before the appointment time on your letter and book in at the Radiology Reception desk.

In the x-ray department

You will be shown into a private changing cubicle and asked to put a hospital gown on. You will be able to place your personal items in a basket that you will keep with you. If you want to bring your own dressing gown to wear over the top, that is fine.

This test can take a long time. Everybody’s bowel works differently, some slower or quicker than others. It is possible that you may be in the X-ray Department between two to five hours and in some cases all day. You may want to bring a book or magazine to read.

During the procedure

On entering the x-ray room the radiographer will greet you; they will then check your personal details and discuss the procedure with you.

You will meet the radiologist that will be supervising your examination and you will be asked to give your verbal consent before starting the examination.

You will be asked to drink some Barium. A series of x-rays of your abdomen will be taken at timed intervals. You will be asked to lie flat on the x-ray table with a pillow under your head, you may be asked to lie on either your back or front at different stages during the procedure. You will be awake during the procedure and there will be a member of staff nearby at all times to support you.

A radiologist will review the x-ray images and decide when the next x-ray needs to be taken. This will depend how quickly the Barium is moving through the bowel as everyone is different. You will be asked to sit outside the x-ray room in between each x-ray. This will happen until the barium has reached the end of your small bowel, it may be necessary to lightly press on your abdomen whilst taking some of the x-rays, this is to ensure that your entire small bowel has all been seen in the images.

At the end of the procedure – you will be shown back to a private changing cubicle so you can get changed back into your clothes, then you are free to leave the department.

What happens after the procedure?

You should be able to go home and resume normal eating and drinking as soon as the test is finished. We advise you to eat a good high fibre diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables. We also ask that you drink plenty of fluids for the next two days to ensure that you do not become constipated from the Barium.

The Barium liquid will be passed within your normal bowel motions. You may notice that your bowel motions become pale in colour for a few days – this is normal.

The results will be sent to the doctor who sent you for the test and they will arrange to give you the results.

Are there any risks?

Minor risks:

Barium passes through the bowel and leaves your body through bowel movements. Sometimes the Barium can cause constipation, see your GP if your bowel motions don’t return to normal in a couple of days.

Major risks:

If you have existing problems like constipation then you may find it more difficult to pass the barium and it could make your constipation worse.

It is rare for a Barium test to cause any other problems or side effects. Please feel free to ask any questions at your appointment.

What should I do if I am or may be pregnant?

For all x-rays you should let the radiographer know if you are pregnant or if there is a chance that you might be pregnant. X-rays aren’t usually recommended for pregnant women unless it is an emergency. You may be asked information regarding your menstrual cycle and be offered a pregnancy test if there is a possibility that you are pregnant.

How soon will I be back to normal?

You will be allowed to go home straight after the test and resume normal eating and drinking straight away.

You can drive on the same day as the procedure.

If you have any concerns do not hesitate to contact your GP or the radiology nurse on the number below.

What happens if I decide not to have the procedure?

You will be referred back to the doctor who referred you for the Barium Follow Through to discuss this further.

What if I have any special requirements?

If you have any special needs or requirements please contact the x-ray staff on the number below.

Where can I get more information?

Radiology nurses can be contacted on:

0191 445 3260. Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

NHS 111

Data Protection

Any personal information is kept confidential.  There may be occasions where your information needs to be shared with other care professionals to ensure you receive the best care possible.

In order to assist us to improve the services available, your information may be used for clinical audit, research, teaching and anonymised for National NHS Reviews and Statistics.  

Further information is available via Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust website or by contacting the Data Protection Officer by telephone on 0191 445 8418 or by email at [email protected].

This leaflet can be made available in other languages and formats upon request.