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Upper GI Series: About This Test

Esophagus, stomach, and intestines

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 doctor if:

  • You are taking any medicine.
  • You are allergic to any medicines, barium, or any other X-ray contrast material.
  • You are or might be pregnant. This test is not done during pregnancy because of the risk of radiation to the baby (fetus).

Your doctor may ask you to do one or all of the following:

  • Eat a low-fibre diet for a few days before the test.
  • Stop eating for 12 hours before the test.
  • Take a laxative to help clean out your intestines the evening before the test.
  • Stop taking certain medicines.

What happens before the test?

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

  • You will need to take off your clothes and put on a hospital gown.
  • Take out any dentures, and take off any jewellery.

What happens during the test?

  • You will lie on your back on an X-ray table.
  • You will have an X-ray taken before you drink the barium mix. Then you'll take small swallows repeatedly during the series of X-rays that follow.
  • The doctor watches the barium pass through your GI tract using fluoroscopy and X-ray pictures. The table is tilted at different positions, and you may change positions to help spread the barium.

What else should you know about the test?

  • You may be given a laxative or enema to flush the barium out of your intestines after the test. This prevents constipation.
  • It's a good idea to drink a lot of fluids for a few days to flush out the barium.
  • For 1 to 3 days after the test, your stool will look white from the barium.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take about 30 to 40 minutes. If you are also having a small bowel study, the test will take 2 to 6 hours. In some cases, you may be asked to come back after 24 hours to have more X-rays taken.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away. Results of the test are usually ready in 1 to 3 days.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away. You may eat and drink whatever you like, unless your doctor tells you not to.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You aren't able to have 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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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.