What are barium x-rays?
A barium x-ray is a radiographic (x-ray) examination of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Barium x-rays (also called upper and lower GI series) are used to diagnose abnormalities of the GI tract, such as tumors, ulcers and other inflammatory conditions, polyps, hernias, and strictures.
The use of barium with standard x-rays contributes to the visibility of various characteristics of the GI tract. Barium is a dry, white, chalky, metallic powder that is mixed with water to make barium liquid. Barium is an x-ray absorber and appears white on x-ray film. When instilled into the GI tract, barium coats the inside wall of the esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and/or small intestine so that the inside wall lining, size, shape, contour, and patency (openness) are visible on x-ray. This process shows differences that might not be seen on standard x-rays. Barium is used only for diagnostic studies of the GI tract.
In addition to drinking barium, some patients may be given baking soda crystals (similar to Alka-Seltzer) to further improve the images. This type of procedure is called an air-contrast or double-contrast upper GI.
Fluoroscopy is often used during a barium x-ray. Fluoroscopy is a study of moving body structures - similar to an x-ray "movie." A continuous x-ray beam is passed through the body part being examined, and is transmitted to a TV-like monitor so that the body part and its motion can be seen in detail. In a barium x-ray, fluoroscopy allows the radiologist to see the movement of the barium through the GI tract as it is instilled through the mouth or the rectum.
Why are barium x-rays performed?
Reasons for performing barium x-ray procedures may include the following:
bleeding from the rectum
bowel movement changes
chronic diarrhea or constipation
pain or difficulty swallowing
unexplained weight loss
to detect anatomical abnormalities
Additional procedures are often performed in conjunction with or as a result of barium x-rays. These procedures may include endoscopic examinations (an endoscope is a thin, flexible tube that is inserted into a body cavity and, using fiberoptic technology, provides direct visualization of the inside of the cavity), computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and intra-cavity ultrasound.
What are the different types of barium x-ray procedures?
There are three types of barium x-ray procedures, including the following:
barium enema (also called lower GI series)
barium small-bowel enema (also called enteroclysis)
barium swallow (also called upper GI series)
What is a barium enema?A barium enema involves filling the large intestine with diluted barium liquid while x-ray images are being taken. Barium enemas are used to diagnose disorders of the large intestine, colon, and rectum. These disorders may include colonic tumors, polyps, diverticula, and anatomical abnormalities.
How is a barium enema performed?Usually, a barium enema can be performed on an outpatient basis. The patient may be asked to do the following in preparation for a barium enema:
These measures are done to empty the large intestine, as any residue (feces) can obscure the image. However, a barium enema may be done without preparation, for example, to diagnose Hirschsprung's disease.
Barium enemas are performed in two ways:
Although each hospital may have specific protocols in place, generally, a barium enema procedure follows this process:
barium small-bowel enema
What is a barium small-bowel enema?A barium small-bowel enema is also called enteroclysis. The procedure involves filling the small intestine with barium liquid while x-ray images are being taken. Barium small-bowel enemas are used to diagnose disorders of the stomach and small intestine, such as ulcers, tumors, and inflammatory bowel disease, a group of disorders that includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
How is a barium small-bowel enema performed?Usually, a barium small-bowel enema can be performed on an outpatient basis. Patients may be asked to refrain from eating or drinking after midnight on the night before the examination. An enema or laxative may be given on the day before the test to clear feces from the bowel.
Although each hospital may have specific protocols in place, generally, a barium small-bowel procedure follows this process:
What is a barium swallow?A barium swallow, also called an upper GI series, is an examination of the esophagus and stomach using barium to coat the walls of the upper digestive tract so that it may be examined under x-ray. Barium swallows are used to identify any abnormalities such as tumors, ulcers, hernias, pouches, strictures, and swallowing difficulties.
How is a barium swallow performed?Usually, a barium swallow can be performed on an outpatient basis. Patients may be advised not to eat or drink after midnight on the night before the examination.
Although each hospital may have specific protocols in place, generally, a barium swallow procedure follows this process:
An upper gastrointestinal study with a small bowel follow-through is another type of barium study that may be used to evaluate certain conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), unexplained gastrointestinal bleeding, chronic/recurrent abdominal pain, and vomiting.