The barium meal and swallow procedures provide doctors with X-ray images of your gut so they can identify any problems that might be causing symptoms such as indigestion and other pain.
A referral letter from a consultant or GP is required before booking any diagnostic investigation.
Many of us are affected by debilitating and painful digestion problems. Yet doctors find it difficult to examine the gut (the oesophagus and stomach) because it is difficult to get detailed images of this part of the body on X-rays.
By covering it with barium, a soft white reactive metal that is safe to consume, clinicians can get much better X-ray images and identify problems. These could include:
These tests can also help doctors diagnose cancer. A stomach ulcer alone can cause quite intense pain as well as indigestion and heartburn. Diagnosis is the first step towards getting the treatment you need. You should not take this test if you're pregnant as it exposes you to a low level of radiation.
You start the procedure by consuming barium and it usually lasts around 20 minutes. With a barium meal, images will be taken of your stomach while a barium swallow and meal allows clinicians to take pictures of your oesophagus as well.
We pride ourselves on our clinical excellence, you'll be looked after by an experienced multi-disciplinary care team.
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You will need a referral letter from a consultant or GP before booking any diagnostic investigation.
You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
A formal consultation may not always be required for all patients.
We've tried to make your experience with us as easy and relaxed as possible.
For more information on visiting hours, our food, what to pack if you're staying with us, parking and all those other important practicalities, please visit our patient information pages.
Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.
Talk to your doctor about whether you need to adapt any medication you are taking before the procedure. Never stop taking prescribed medicines without talking to a doctor.
One of our experienced and caring staff will ask you to drink a white liquid containing barium in an X-ray room.
It’s fruit flavoured and you’ll need to sip it rather than gulp it.
We'll temporarily expand your stomach and will do this by asking you to swallow a spoon of granules. You might also be given a muscle relaxant injection to prevent the stomach moving while the images are taken.
The radiographer will then take images. You might be asked to swallow or hold your breath at various points and the table you’re on will tilt during the procedure. This means you'll gradually tilt from sitting to lying down.
You may feel bloated for a few hours and it's likely you'll be constipated for a few days. Talk to your pharmacist about a mild laxative. Drink plenty of water and eat high fibre foods such as fresh fruit and veg, rice and wholemeal pasta to get things moving.
Some people have an allergic reaction to the flavouring added to the barium drink. Before you leave, we'll advise you on what to look out for and what medicines are available to treat any allergic reaction.
If you experience any itching or difficulty in breathing tell your radiographer immediately. Ask your doctor to explain how these risks apply to you. The exact risks will differ for every person.
A report will be sent to the doctor who requested your test. The report can take several days to reach your doctor. Before you go home, please ask your radiographer when you can expect to get your results.
If you haven't been told the results of your X-ray within two weeks, you should call the doctor who requested your test.
We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.
The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.
COVID-19 testing or antibody tests are not available as a standalone service at Spire Harpenden Hospital.