Haematology outpatients has moved to main outpatients near A&E at the front of the hospital

Information for patients requiring a Barium Swallow and/or Meal

Why do I need this procedure?

You have been referred by your doctor for a barium swallow examination.  This is an examination used to take x-ray pictures of the oesophagus (food pipe) and stomach.  This also involves drinking a white liquid called barium. We take x-ray pictures while you swallow the barium.   

 Please contact the radiology appointment team on 0191 445 2491 prior to your procedure if:  

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

What are the benefits of the procedure? 

Your doctor may ask you to have a barium swallow to help diagnose any conditions that make it difficult for you to swallow or if they suspect that you have a disorder of the upper gastrointestinal tract this is often referred to as the GI tract. This examination is also carried out on patients who cannot tolerate having an endoscopy. Your upper GI tract includes the oesophagus, the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum.

Some common problems that a barium swallow may help diagnose include:

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

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

Can I take my medication as normal? 

Most medication can be taken as normal.  If you are diabetic, please telephone us to let us know so that we can arrange a morning appointment for you.

What happens during the procedure? 

It is essential your stomach is empty so you must not eat or drink for six hours before the time of your examination. Do not have a cup of tea, coffee or water. 

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

There will be a radiologist in the room who will perform the examination. They will be assisted by a radiographer and a radiology support worker, who is there to help you feel comfortable. There may also be a student in the room observing the procedure. However, if you are not happy to have a student present, you do not have to agree to this.

You will be asked to remove clothes to your underpants and put on a hospital gown. You will be given a dressing gown or you may bring your own from home if you prefer. 

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 who will be supervising your examination and you will be asked to give your verbal consent before starting the examination.

You will be asked to swallow a spoonful of powder followed by a sharp tasting liquid, rather like lemon juice. These combine to produces gas in your stomach which will give us better pictures. You must resist the urge to burp. You will then be asked to stand on a step on the x-ray table. 

You will be asked to swallow mouthfuls of a thick chalky liquid (barium), while the radiologist takes pictures. Whilst doing this, you will be asked to move into a number of positions, both standing up and lying down. We will help you to do this if needed.

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? 

The report will be sent to the consultant who requested the examination. 

The consultant who sent you for the test may either: 

  • Write to your GP 
  • Send you an outpatient appointment for you to see them in clinic 
  • Contact you directly to give results. 

What complications can happen? 

Very rarely, a little bit of barium can go down the wrong way into the airway. Sometimes we may need to organize some physiotherapy to help you cough this back up.  

Minor risks:

  • Barium passes through the bowel and leaves your body through bowel movements. Sometimes the Barium can cause constipation so you are encouraged to drink plenty of water for 2-3 days following the procedure to help flush it through your system.  Additionally, barium will turn your bowel motions white and this is nothing to worry about. 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 you constipation worse.  
  • For a small number of patients, there is a risk of aspiration (breathing in) of the contrast. This is unlikely but the risk increases for patients with known difficulties swallowing or a previous aspiration. Please let the radiologist performing the examination know whether it is usual for you to cough when you swallow. 

It is rare for a barium test to cause any other problems or side effects.  

How soon will I be back to normal? 

For the next few days your stools will be white due to the barium. You may be constipated. This is quite normal. You should ensure that you continue to drink plenty of fluid and eat more fibre (bran flake, fruit and vegetables) for a few days after your test.       

What happens if I decide not to have the investigation? 

You will be referred back to the doctor who advised the Barium swallow to discuss it further. 

What if I have any special requirements?

If you have any special needs or requirements please discuss this with the nurse or doctor at your pre assessment visit or contact the x-ray staff on the number below.

If you are a female between the ages of 12 and 55 years, this examination must be performed within 28 days of the start of your last menstrual period. Please inform the department if your examination falls after this time or if there is a possibility that you may be pregnant?

Where can I get more information? 

Please contact the radiology department: 

0191 445 2592 Monday to Friday 0900-1700 

NHS direct 24 hours a day on 0845 46 47 

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.