Upper GI Series

An Upper GI Series, also called a Barium Swallow, uses x rays to help diagnose problems of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). It can be used to help determine the cause of:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • difficulties swallowing
  • gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • unexplained weight loss

A GI series can detect:

  • ulcers
  • abnormal growths
  • scarring or strictures (narrowing)
  • diverticular (bulges in the wall of the esophagus or intestine)
  • esophageal varices (enlarged veins in the  esophagus)

Preparing for Your Upper GI Series

Tell your doctor if you:

  • have any health conditions
  • have allergies to medications or foods
  • are taking any medications - including over-the-counter drugs, herbal and dietary supplements, and vitamins
  • are pregnant or may be pregnant

Do not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before the test. Your upper GI tract must be empty prior to this test. Do not smoke or chew gum during this period.

The Day of Your Upper GI

This test is done by a radiology technologist or a radiologist, a doctor who specializes in x–ray imaging. If a technologist conducts the upper GI series, a radiologist will later examine the images to look for problems.

  • While sitting or standing in front of an x–ray machine, you will drink barium liquid, which is often white and has a chalky consistency and taste. The barium liquid coats the lining of the upper GI tract and makes signs of disease show up more clearly on x-rays.
  • X-ray video, called fluoroscopy, is used to view the barium liquid moving through your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
  • Additional x-rays and fluoroscopy are performed while you lie on the x-ray table.
  • To fully coat the upper GI tract with barium liquid, you may be asked to change position. To allow x-rays to be taken at different angles, you may be asked to hold still in a particular position while an x-ray is being taken.

Double Contrast Study

The double contrast study gets its name from the combination of air and liquid barium working together to create a more detailed view of the stomach lining. You will be given gas-forming crystals to swallow. These crystals are activated when they mix with the barium liquid. The gas expands your stomach, exposing finer details of the stomach lining, and additional x-rays are taken.

After Your Upper GI Series

  • Unless otherwise directed, you can resume your normal diet after the test.
  • You may feel bloated or have an upset stomach for a short time after the test.
  • Not eating before the test and the test itself may cause you to feel tired.
  • For several days afterward, barium liquid in the GI tract causes stools to be white or light colored.
  • Drinking plenty of liquids helps flush out the barium and reduce the risks of constipation and bowel obstruction.


Mild constipation is the most common problem after a UGI. Serious complications are rare and include an allergic reaction to the barium drink and bowel obstruction.

When to Call Your Doctor

Patients who experience any of the following rare symptoms should contact their doctor immediately:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • failure to have a bowel movement within 2 days after the procedure
  • fever of 100.5°F (38°C) or higher