Small Bowel Exam

Bowel radiography is an X-ray examination of the small intestines that uses a special form of X-ray called fluoroscopy and an orally ingested contrast material called barium.

  • About small bowel exams
    • An X-ray is a noninvasive exam that helps your physician diagnose and treat your medical conditions. X-rays involve exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce images of the inside of the body.
    • Fluoroscopy is X-rays that let the physicians see your internal organs in motion. When the small intestines are coated with barium, the radiologist can view and see the anatomy and function of the small intestines.
  • How should I prepare?
    • To ensure the best possible image quality, your stomach must be empty of food. Therefore, do not eat or drink after midnight the night before your exam. Do not take any medications that are taken by mouth, especially antacids. Do not chew gum or smoke after midnight.
    • 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.
  • What should I expect?
    • This examination is usually performed on an outpatient basis and is often scheduled in the morning to reduce the patient's fasting time.
    • A radiologic technologist and a radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will perform the small bowel exam.
    • The patient will drink the liquid barium (chalky milkshake). Once the patient has drunk the contrast, the technologist will periodically take films of your abdomen until the contrast has gone through the entire length of your small intestines (about 33 feet). When the contrast reaches your large intestines, the radiologist will take some fluoroscopic images.
    • The exam will take several hours because you have to wait until the contrast has gone through small intestines.
    • Periodically, you will be asked to hold still and hold your breath for a few seconds while an X-ray picture is taken to help reduce blurry images.
    • Once the exam is complete, you will be asked to wait until the radiologist looks at the images to make sure no additional images are needed.
    • This exam is usually completed within 1-3 hours or more depending on how quickly your intestines move.
  • How will I find out the results?

    After the procedure, your physician will receive a copy of your results to discuss with you.

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