What is a Stomach (Upper GI) exam?

An Upper GI examination is a diagnostic procedure which uses a "contrast agent" called barium sulfate and x-rays to obtain clear pictures of your upper gastrointestinal tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Ordinarily, x-rays pass through the soft tissues of the body, such as those found in your upper digestive tract. However, barium sulfate coats the walls of your upper digestive tract, thereby casting shadows that can be recorded in x-ray film.

The Upper GI exam can detect problems within your upper digestive system. This procedure helps your doctor identify these problems with minimal risk and discomfort to you.

What will the exam be like?

The upper gastrointestinal (GI) examination will be performed by a radiologist specializing in GI examinations.  For this exam, you will change from your clothing into a hospital gown. A technologist will gently position you on a special, tilting table supporting a piece of equipment called a fluoroscope — an x-ray machine combined with a television screen. You will be asked to drink a liquid barium mixture and some gas producing crystals. Your radiologist will watch the barium flow through your digestive tract. In addition, "spot films" — small, standard x-rays — will be taken of the areas your doctor wishes to study.

As the barium flows through your digestive tract, you will be asked to turn from side to side and hold several positions. Some gentle pressure may be applied to your abdomen, and the table may be tilted slightly.

How do I prepare for the Upper GI 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 exam.

How long will the exam take?

Time may vary significantly depending on the nature of the study and other factors. Your doctor will advise you of the amount of time needed for your particular exam.

What should I do following the exam?

After the exam, 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.

How 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 an Upper GI?

Remember to tell your doctor of 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 examination. These questions will help evaluate your particular situation.

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To schedule an appointment, please call 888.364.6400.

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