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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 do you prepare for the test?

Your doctor may tell you not to eat anything after midnight the night before the test.

How is the test done?

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.

During the test

  • You will stand or sit in front of the X-ray machine while the test is done.
  • The doctor and a speech pathologist will guide you through a series of swallowing steps.
  • Depending on the type of study, you will swallow liquid mixed with barium or solid foods coated with barium.
  • While you swallow, the doctor and speech pathologist will 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.

How does having a swallowing study feel?

You won't feel any pain from the X-ray. The barium liquid is thick and chalky, and some people find it hard to swallow. The barium may be flavoured to make it easier to drink.

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 feel bloated and a little sick to your stomach.
  • You may have light-coloured stools for a few days after the test while the barium leaves your body.
  • When the swallowing study is done, you may eat and drink whatever you like, unless your doctor tells you not to.
  • 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?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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