Your doctor has requested that you have a barium meal. We hope the following information will answer some of the questions you may have about this procedure.
What is a barium meal?
It is an examination of the oesophagus (food pipe), stomach and the first part of your bowel. These areas of your body cannot normally be seen on x-ray images. The procedure uses a type of x-ray, called fluoroscopy, to view images in real time. The images are taken as you swallow a white liquid (called barium) as it passes into your stomach and small bowel. The procedure is carried out by a specialist radiographer.
How do I prepare for a barium meal?
Please do not eat or drink for 6 hours before your appointment time. If you need to, you can take small sips of water or clear fluid.
Continue to take your normal medication unless otherwise instructed; however please inform us when you arrive if you are allergic to anything.
If you are diabetic please ensure your blood sugars are maintained.
The procedure uses x-rays and the amount of radiation used is small, however if you think you may be pregnant please inform the Imaging Department before attending the appointment. The telephone number for the Imaging Department can be found on the appointment letter.
On the day of the procedure:
- You will arrive at Gate 18, whereby a member of the Imaging team will take you through to the fluoroscopy waiting room.
- A radiographer will discuss the procedure with you. You will be given an opportunity to ask questions. If you are happy to proceed you will be asked to change into a hospital gown.
- You will first be asked to place some granules on your tongue and drink a small amount of liquid with the granules; this will help create gas in your stomach.
- You will then be asked drink liquid barium prior to the x-ray images being taken.
- You will lie on an x-ray table and the radiographer will ask you to roll into various positions to coat your stomach with the barium. As this is happening the radiographer will take a number of x-rays to assess your stomach.
- Finally you may be asked to stand and drink a further mouthful of barium so the oesophagus and stomach can be viewed from several angles.
- The examination is usually complete within 20 minutes, but may take longer. You may need to wait for a few minutes afterwards so we can make sure we have all the necessary information.
After the examination:
- There will still be some barium retained in the bowel and your motions will appear whitish in colour for a couple of days.
- Barium can occasionally cause constipation, so we recommend that you drink plenty of fluids afterwards.
- You can eat and drink normally after the examination. Eating a high fibre diet like bran or wholemeal bread can help but the main thing is to drink plenty of fluids.
What are the risks associated with a barium meal?
Barium meals are generally regarded as a very safe test and problems rarely occur. The barium liquid is not absorbed by the body as it only coats the walls of the oesophagus, stomach and bowel.
- If you have difficulty in swallowing there is a risk of aspiration (breathing in) the barium. Please inform the imaging department prior to your appointment if you are known to aspirate when you drink.
- Fluoroscopy involves the use of x-rays; however with modern equipment the risk is very low (NRPB 2014).
How will I get the results?
You will not get an indication of the result at the time of the examination, as analysis of the images will take place after you have left the department.
The radiographer and a radiologist (specialist imaging doctor) will review your examination at the earliest opportunity and this will be sent to the doctor who requested the examination. Allow 7-10 days for the doctor to receive the report.
Finally we hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions either before or after the procedure the staff in the Imaging Department will be happy to answer them.
The telephone number for the Imaging Department can be found on the appointment letter.
References / Other resources:
Public Health England (2014) “Guidance – Exposure to ionising radiation from medical imaging: safety advice”
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (2017) “Having a barium examination”
BSGAR (2011) British Society of GI and Abdominal Radiology Barium Meal Patient Information Leaflet
How to contact us:
0300 555 0103
If you or the individual you are caring for need support reading this leaflet please ask a member of staff for advice.
© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published June 2021. Review due June 2023. NBT003314.