Barium Studies of the Intestines

May 3, 2022

What Is Barium?

Barium is an iodinated (iodine containing) contrast agent that is orally ingested to coat the intestinal tract. Thereafter, sequential x-ray images can be taken of the upper, middle, or lower intestine to evaluate for ulcers, tumors, inflammation, and other abnormalities.

What Is An Upper Gastrointestinal Series?

An Upper Gastrointestinal Series involves taking x-rays of the esophagus, stomach and/or small intestines after ingestion of barium liquid. An Upper GI Series can detect disorders such as ulcers and certain cancers.

What Is A Small Bowel Series?

The Small Bowel Series is an x-ray examination that uses a barium sulfate contrast media to visualize the small intestine. This exam can follow an Upper GI Series and usually lasts 1½ – 3 hours. This exam can last longer depending on how quickly the contrast moves through the intestines.

What Is A Barium Enema?

A barium enema is an x-ray examination of the colon after barium liquid is introduced to allow better visualization. A barium enema can detect colon cancer as well as other disorders of the colon such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis).

How Do I Prepare For Barium Tests?

To prepare for your test, do not have anything to eat or drink after midnight on the day of the examination. If you need to take medication which cannot wait until after the examination is over (usually about mid-morning), take it with a tiny sip of water. If you are diabetic and cannot fast, please let the radiology department know in advance of your examination.

For a barium enema, you will be asked to take a bowel preparation the day before in order to prepare your colon for adequate imaging.

How Is The Test Performed?

Although the procedure may vary from patient to patient, the Upper GI and Small Bowel Series involve drinking a barium shake (a contrast medium) during the exam. You may also receive a carbonated beverage to produce gas which helps show contrast on the x-rays. The x-rays are often taken in both the standing and lying down positions to show the flow of the barium through the upper gastrointestinal system.

The barium enema involves barium liquid introduced into the colon followed by air insufflation after which time x-rays are taken in various positions.

How Much Time Does Each Test Take?

Please allow 1 hour for the Upper GI Series. Please allow 2-4 hours for the Small Bowel Series. Please allow 1-2 hours for barium enemas.

What Should I Expect After The Exam?

You can resume normal activities after your exam. You should drink 4-6 extra glasses of liquid throughout the day.