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Upper GI Series: About Your Child's Test

Location of esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon

What is it?

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series looks at the upper and middle sections of the gastrointestinal tract. The test uses barium contrast material, fluoroscopy, and X-ray. Fluoroscopy is a kind of X-ray.

Why is this test done?

An upper GI series is done to:

  • Find the cause of symptoms such as vomiting, burping up food, trouble swallowing, poor weight gain, bleeding, or belly pain.
  • Find narrow spots (strictures), or blockages, in the upper intestinal tract.
  • Find ulcers, polyps, and pyloric stenosis.

How can you prepare for the test?

Tell your child's doctor if:

  • Your child is taking any medicine.
  • Your child is allergic to any medicines, barium, or any other X-ray contrast material.

The doctor may ask you to have your child do one or all of the following:

  • Stop eating before the test. Your doctor will tell you when your child should stop eating so that your child's stomach is empty for the test.
  • Stop taking certain medicines.

You may want to bring a toy or favourite blanket for your child. You may also want to have a snack or drink for after the test.

What happens before the test?

The test is usually done in a clinic or the X-ray department of a hospital.

  • Your child will need to wear a hospital gown.
  • He or she will also need to take off any jewellery.

What happens during the test?

  • Your child will lie on his or her back on an X-ray table.
  • You will be able to stay with your child during the test (unless you are pregnant). You will need to wear a lead vest to protect from the X-rays.
  • Your child will have an X-ray taken before drinking the barium mix. Then your child will take small swallows repeatedly during the series of X-rays that follow. (If your child can't drink the mix, the doctor may use a small, flexible tube to help get it down.)
  • The doctor uses fluoroscopy and X-ray pictures to watch the barium pass through your child's GI tract. The table is tilted at different positions. Your child may change positions to help spread the barium.
  • The test is over when the doctor has seen enough of the barium pass through your child's GI tract.

How long does the test take?

The test will take about 30 to 40 minutes. If your child is also having a small bowel study, the test will take 2 to 3 hours.

What happens after the test?

  • Your child will probably be able to go home right away. Results of the test are usually ready in 1 to 3 days.
  • Your child can go back to his or her usual activities right away. Your child may eat and drink whatever he or she likes, unless the doctor says not to.
  • It's a good idea for your child to drink a lot of fluids for a few days to flush out the barium.
  • If your child is constipated after the test, he or she may be given a mild laxative to flush the barium out of the intestines. Be sure to contact your doctor if your child isn't able to have a bowel movement within 2 to 3 days after the test.
  • For 1 to 3 days after the test, your child's stool will look white from the barium.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.