A barium meal is type of X-ray test that allows your doctor to examine your oesophagus (the pipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach), stomach and the first part of your bowel (duodenum).
X-rays usually pass straight through parts of the gut such as the esophagus, stomach and bowel and so these structures don’t show up well on plain X-ray images. However, if the gut wall is coated with barium, a white liquid that X-rays can’t pass through, a much clearer image of the outline of the gut can be captured.
How to prepare
You should not eat or drink anything for 8-12 hours before the test.
If you have diabetes, inform at the time of appointment.
Please bring a list of any medications you are taking when you come for your X-ray. If you usually take medication in the morning, only take it on the morning of the test if essential. If not, please wait and take any medications after the test.
You must tell your radiographer about any medicines you are taking and if you have any allergies, glaucoma or heart disease. If you are a woman of childbearing age, you will be asked if you are pregnant.
During the procedure:
You will be asked to drink some white liquid, with a chalky texture, containing barium. The liquid is usually mildly fruit flavoured and you will be asked to sip one or two mouthfuls at a time.
You may be asked to swallow some bicarbonate powder and citric acid before swallowing the barium. These 'fizz up' when they mix in the stomach and make some gas so you may have to resist the urge to burp.) The gas expands the stomach and duodenum making the x-ray pictures much clearer. Various x-ray pictures may be taken whilst you are in different positions. At certain points during the process you may be asked to hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
X-ray films of the abdomen will be taken at 15-30 minute intervals to study the progress of barium through the small bowel. It may take as little as one hour or as long as four hours for the whole of the small bowel to be shown in this way. It is not possible to predict exactly how long the examination will take -- it's different for each patient.
After the examination.
The barium may make you constipated. Therefore, to help prevent constipation have lots to drink for a day or so to flush the barium out of your gut.
You can eat normally straight after any barium test.
We would not normally expect you to have any side effects after this examination. The barium does not get absorbed into the body. Therefore, it is rare for a barium test to cause any complications or side-effects
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