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Upper GI and small bowel series

GI series; Barium swallow x-ray; Upper GI series

 

An upper GI and small bowel series is a set of x-rays taken to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

Barium enema is a related test.

How the Test is Performed

 

An upper GI and small bowel series is done in a health care office or hospital radiology department.

You may get an injection of a medicine that slows muscle movement in the small intestine. This makes it easier to see the structures of your organs on the x-rays.

Before the x-rays are taken, you must drink 16 to 20 ounces (480 to 600 milliliters) of a milkshake-like drink. The drink contains a substance called barium, which shows up well on x-rays.

An x-ray method called fluoroscopy tracks how the barium moves through your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Pictures are taken while you sit or stand in different positions.

The test most often takes around 3 hours but can take as long as 6 hours to complete.

A GI series may include this test or a barium enema.

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

You may have to change your diet for 2 or 3 days before the test. In most cases, you will not be able to eat for a period of time before the test.

Be sure to ask your health care provider if you need to change how you take any of your medicines. Often you can continue taking the medicines you take by mouth. Never make any changes in your medicines without first talking to your provider.

You will be asked to remove all jewelry on your neck, chest, or abdomen before the test.

 

How the Test will Feel

 

The x-ray may cause mild bloating but no discomfort most of the time. The barium milkshake feels chalky as you drink it.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

This test is done to look for a problem in the structure or function of your esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.

 

Normal Results

 

A normal result shows that the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine are normal in size, shape, and movement.

Normal value ranges may vary depending on the lab doing the test. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

 

What Abnormal Results Mean

 

Abnormal results in the esophagus may indicate the following problems:

  • Achalasia
  • Diverticula
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal narrowing (stricture) - benign
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Ulcers

Abnormal results in the stomach may indicate the following problems:

  • Gastric cancer
  • Gastric ulcer - benign
  • Gastritis
  • Polyps (a tumor that is usually noncancerous and grows on the mucus membrane)
  • Pyloric stenosis (narrowing)

Abnormal results in the stomach may indicate the following problems:

  • Malabsorption syndrome
  • Swelling and irritation of the small intestines
  • Tumors
  • Ulcers

The test may also be done for the following conditons:

  • Annular pancreas
  • Duodenal ulcer
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Gastroparesis
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Lower esophageal ring
  • Primary or idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction

 

Risks

 

You are exposed to a low level of radiation during this test, which carries a very small risk of cancer. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women should not have this test in most cases. Children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.

Barium may cause constipation. Talk to your provider if the barium has not passed through your system by 2 or 3 days after the exam.

 

Considerations

 

The upper GI series should be done after other x-ray procedures, because the barium that remains in the body may block details in other imaging tests.

 

 

References

Caroline DF, Dass C, Agusto O. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 27.

Kim DH, Pickhardt PJ. Diagnostic imaging procedures in gastroenterology. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 135.

 
  • Barium ingestion

    Barium ingestion - illustration

    An upper GI series is performed to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The purpose of the test is to detect abnormalities in those areas.

    Barium ingestion

    illustration

  • Stomach cancer, X-ray

    Stomach cancer, X-ray - illustration

    An upper GI series in a patient with cancer of the stomach (gastric carcinoma).

    Stomach cancer, X-ray

    illustration

  • Stomach ulcer, X-ray

    Stomach ulcer, X-ray - illustration

    This is an example of a procedure called an upper GI series. The person swallows a substance called barium which allows for illumination of the organs in question. In this case, an ulceration is present in the stomach, seen on the right of the screen. This method is a means of diagnosing stomach ulcers as well as other anomalies along the upper gastrointestinal tract.

    Stomach ulcer, X-ray

    illustration

  • Volvulus - X-ray

    Volvulus - X-ray - illustration

    A GI series in a patient with a twisted bowel (volvulus).

    Volvulus - X-ray

    illustration

  • Small intestine

    Small intestine - illustration

    The small intestine is the portion of the digestive system most responsible for absorption of nutrients from food into the bloodstream. The pyloric sphincter governs the passage of partly digested food from the stomach into the duodenum. This short first portion of the small intestine is followed by the jejunum and the ileum. The ileocecal valve of the ileum passes digested material into the large intestine.

    Small intestine

    illustration

    • Barium ingestion

      Barium ingestion - illustration

      An upper GI series is performed to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The purpose of the test is to detect abnormalities in those areas.

      Barium ingestion

      illustration

    • Stomach cancer, X-ray

      Stomach cancer, X-ray - illustration

      An upper GI series in a patient with cancer of the stomach (gastric carcinoma).

      Stomach cancer, X-ray

      illustration

    • Stomach ulcer, X-ray

      Stomach ulcer, X-ray - illustration

      This is an example of a procedure called an upper GI series. The person swallows a substance called barium which allows for illumination of the organs in question. In this case, an ulceration is present in the stomach, seen on the right of the screen. This method is a means of diagnosing stomach ulcers as well as other anomalies along the upper gastrointestinal tract.

      Stomach ulcer, X-ray

      illustration

    • Volvulus - X-ray

      Volvulus - X-ray - illustration

      A GI series in a patient with a twisted bowel (volvulus).

      Volvulus - X-ray

      illustration

    • Small intestine

      Small intestine - illustration

      The small intestine is the portion of the digestive system most responsible for absorption of nutrients from food into the bloodstream. The pyloric sphincter governs the passage of partly digested food from the stomach into the duodenum. This short first portion of the small intestine is followed by the jejunum and the ileum. The ileocecal valve of the ileum passes digested material into the large intestine.

      Small intestine

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Upper GI and small bowel series

           

           

          Review Date: 11/20/2014

          Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

          The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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