Upper gastrointestinal tract radiography, also called an upper GI, is a special type of X-ray of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (also known as the duodenum). The X-ray, called a fluoroscopy, uses a contrast material called barium, that the patient drinks before the exam.
Fluoroscopy makes it possible to see internal organs in motion. When the upper GI tract is coated with the barium, the radiologist is able to view and assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
An X-ray examination that evaluates only the pharynx and esophagus is called a barium swallow.
In addition to drinking barium, some patients are also given baking soda crystals (similar to Alka-Seltzer) to further improve the images. This procedure is called an air-contrast or double-contrast upper GI.
How is an upper GI performed?
This exam is usually performed on an outpatient basis and is often scheduled in the morning to reduce the amount of time you have to fast.
A radiologic technologist and a radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will perform the upper GI series.
As you drink the liquid barium (similar to a chalky milkshake), the radiologist will watch the barium pass through your digestive tract by using a fluoroscope (a device that puts images onto a monitor). During the exam, the table will be positioned at different angles and you may be asked to move around in different directions. The radiologist may press on your abdomen to help push the barium through. Once the upper GI tract is coated with the barium, the technologist will take X-ray images.
During the X-ray, you will be asked to be still and hold your breath for a few seconds to help reduce the motion that causes blurry images.
For a double-contrast upper GI series, the patient will be asked to swallow crystals that will create gas in the stomach.
Once the exam is complete, you will be asked to wait until the radiologist looks at the images to make sure that he or she has all the images they need.
This exam is usually completed within 20 minutes.
After the procedure, your physician will receive a copy of your report within 24-48 hours, and he or she will be the one to give you the test results.
Do I need to prepare for my upper GI?
Adult Prep (18 Months and Older)
- No food or drink after midnight.
- Please contact your provider for medication instructions if you are currently taking medications.
Children's Prep (0 Months - 18 Months)
- The day before the Exam - Liquid Diet
- 2 - 4 Hours before the Exam - No food or drink
- Bring a clean, empty baby bottle/cup to the appointment
Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
You may be asked to change into a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, eye glasses and other metal objects that may interfere with the x-ray images.