A barium meal is a type of X-ray investigation used to examine the upper digestive tract which consists of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The test involves orally ingesting a contrasting agent known as barium sulfate that blocks X-rays. When X-rays are directed onto the patient, areas that appear black are those through which the X-rays have penetrated, while the white areas are those that contain barium. X-ray images are taken at different intervals in order to study the upper digestive tract as it fills with barium.
Having an X-ray taken is usually simple and painless. The X-ray machine emits a burst of electromagnetic radiation aimed at a specific part of the body, the digestive tract in this case. The procedure is generally carried out by a radiologist who is specialized in reading barium meal images. The test lasts 30 to 120 minutes.
What is the purpose of this test?
The purpose of this test is to check the digestive system for certain diseases. It is normally ordered to further investigate unexplained digestive symptoms. A physician may, for example, request a barium meal if a patient has stomach pain, swallowing problems, reflux or is vomiting blood.
Instructions may vary among centres and radiologists. It is important however, to follow the particular instructions that you are given. Generally speaking, the guidelines below must be respected:
- This test must be done on an empty stomach. Fasting for 12 hours before the procedure is mandatory. This includes water and chewing gum.
- Do not smoke for 12 hours before the exam as smoking increases stomach secretions.
- A certain amount of barium sulfate must be orally ingested before and during the procedure.
- Images can be taken standing or lying down.
What does an abnormal result mean?
After the procedure, the radiologist will examine the images taken during the barium meal and will make a diagnosis. Additional tests however, may be required. Here is a chart that summarizes the various problems that can occur in each part of the upper digestive tract and that can be detected with a barium meal.
|Duodenum (small intestine)
After the test
You may notice in the days following the procedure that your stool is whitish in colour and harder than usual. This is normal. It is important to drink plenty of water to eliminate the barium. If you have had a barium meal test and have gone two days without having a bowel movement, contact your family doctor.
What to know before going for this test
Before going for a blood test, examination or other, it is always a good idea for you to have a complete list of all prescription or over the counter medications and/or natural products you may be taking. If you are unsure or have any questions, your pharmacist will be able provide you with additional information.
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.