What is a Small Bowel Series?

A Small Bowel Series is a diagnostic procedure, which uses a "contrast agent" called barium sulfate and x-rays to obtain clear pictures of your small bowel. Ordinarily, x-rays pass through the soft tissues of the body, such as those found in your small bowel. However, barium sulfate coats the walls of your small bowel, thereby casting shadows that can be recorded in x-ray film. The exam can detect problems within your small bowel. A Small Bowel Series procedure helps the radiologist identify these problems with minimal risk and discomfort to you.

What takes place during a Small Bowel Series?

The exam will be performed by a radiologist or technician specializing in Small Bowel examinations.  For this exam you will change from your clothing into a hospital gown. A preliminary x-ray is taken of the abdomen. Then the patient drinks two cups of barium. The technologist will be taking x-rays every fifteen minutes, for one hour, then every thirty minutes thereafter until the barium reaches the end of the small bowel. The patient will walk around between films to help the barium move through the gastrointestinal system.

How long does the exam take?

The length of the exam is specific to each patient. However, the exam is approximately 1-2 hours on average.

How do I prepare for the exam?

The patient should not smoke, chew gum, eat or drink anything after midnight prior to the day of the exam to ensure that your system is empty. You may brush your teeth, but avoid swallowing water. You should consult your doctor regarding whether or not you should take your medications the morning of the your Small Bowel Series.

What should I do following my Small Bowel Series?

After the exam drink plenty of water to help your system eliminate the barium. You will be free to return to normal activities and your usual diet, unless told otherwise by your doctor. It is normal for the barium to give a whitish color to your stools for the next day or two. Barium may cause constipation, so consult your physician regarding the need to increase your water intake or to take a laxative.

When will I learn the results of the exam?

The specialized body imaging radiologist, will study the examination and consult with your doctor, who will advise you of the results.

What should I keep in mind when preparing for a Small Bowel Series?

Remember to tell your doctor or technologist, if you are:

  • Pregnant or think you may be
  • Undergoing radiation therapy
  • Subject to constipation

You should also:

  • Wear comfortable clothing
  • Avoid wearing jewelry - metallics may interfere with the accuracy of the film image

Be sure to ask your physician or technologist any questions relating to your Small Bowel Series. These questions will help evaluate your particular situation.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment, please call 888.364.6400.

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