A barium meal is an x-ray examination of your upper gastrointestinal tract. It is used to investigate whether you have got a stomach cancer or ulcer present.
It is normally performed in an x-ray department and involves the use of fluoroscopic x-rays to visualise barium, a contrast dye.
The theory is that the dye coats the esophagus and stomach revealing anything that protrudes from the lining such as a tumor or causes a pit in the lining like an ulcer.
It tends to be performed when an endoscopy can’t be performed.
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You will fast from food and drink for 8 hours before the test is performed.
If you are on any medications, you will need to omit them on the day of your procedure unless advised by your doctor or by the radiology department to continue them.
If you have any concerns, discuss them with the radiology department.
The investigation is a safe, but like any x-ray you will be exposed to radiation. The amount is approximately 50 times higher than the radiation exposure of a chest X-ray although this is within safe limits.
There is an extremely rare risk of aspiration when the barium leaks into the lung if there is an abnormal communication between the esophagus and lung.
The procedure is not possible if you are pregnant. If there is is any possibility of a perforation or hole in the esophagus or stomach the investigation cannot be performed, as the contrast can leak out.
On the day of the procedure, you will be given barium dye which is chalky, milk like drink. You will be asked to drink around 700ml in total.
If the test is a double contrast scan, you will be given some bicarbonate of soda and citric acid (or similar) to swallow which makes gas in your stomach. This gas causes inflation which allows the radiologist to see better.
You may be given an injection of a drug called Hyoscine or Buscopan too. This slows the emptying of your stomach and allows better pictures to be obtained.
You will be asked to lie on a table or couch and an x-ray will be taken. You will then be asked to move on your sides and further pictures will be taken. Sometimes a special couch will move for you.
The whole test only takes about 15 minutes unless the radiologist wants to examine your small bowel which takes longer.
The barium will turn your stools white in color and can make you constipated. If you have a tendency to constipation, you will be advised to take a laxative and increase your fruit and fiber intake for a few days.
If you are given Hyoscine or Buscopan, you may notice some blurring of your vision for a while and you can also experience palpitations with the drug as well as a dry mouth.
The test has to be interpreted by a radiologist who then sends a report to your specialist. The result will be conveyed to you when they have seen this.
Sometimes the test can be inconclusive and in these circumstances further investigation will be advised.
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