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Swallowing Study: About This Test

What is it?

A swallowing study is a test that shows what your throat and esophagus do while you swallow. The test uses X-rays in real time (fluoroscopy) to film as you swallow. You'll swallow a substance called barium that is mixed with liquid and food. The barium shows the movements of your throat and esophagus on the X-ray while you swallow.

Why is this test done?

The test helps your doctor see why you're having trouble swallowing. After treatment, it can also show your doctor if the treatment worked.

How can you prepare for the test?

  • Tell your doctor if:
    • You are taking any medicines.
    • You are allergic to any medicines, barium, or any other X-ray contrast material.
    • You are or might be pregnant.
    • You are breastfeeding.
  • Your doctor may tell you not to eat anything after midnight the night before the test.

What happens before the test?

  • Remove any jewellery that might get in the way of the X-ray picture.
  • You may need to take off all or most of your clothes around the area being X-rayed. You may be given a gown to wear during the test.
  • A lead shield will be placed over your pelvic area to protect it from radiation.

What happens during the test?

  • You will stand or sit in front of the X-ray machine and hold very still while the test is done.
  • The doctor and a speech pathologist will guide you through a series of swallowing steps. You will swallow liquids and then solids, some containing barium.
  • While you swallow, the doctor and speech pathologist watch the video screen. They may ask you to take different positions to see how they affect your swallowing. The X-rays are recorded so they can be looked at later.

What else should you know about the test?

  • The barium in the food is not harmful.
  • You won't feel any pain from the X-ray.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • You may have light-coloured stools for a few days after the test while the barium leaves your body.
  • The barium may cause constipation. Drink plenty of water for a couple of days after the test. You may take a laxative if needed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you haven't had a bowel movement in 2 to 3 days after the test.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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