Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment



VOL: 99, ISSUE: 37, PAGE NO: 27

Download a print-friendly PDF file of this article here


- Barium swallow is an X-ray procedure which is used to examine the oesophagus.

- The procedure has been shown to give good detail of the mucosa and is also useful for showing changes in oesophageal motility.

- It takes about 10-20 minutes to perform.

- It is usually carried out in the X-ray department by a radiologist and radiographer.

- The patient swallows a solution of barium sulphate, which provides a contrast to enhance X-ray images.


- As a diagnostic tool for patients with symptoms such as dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), heartburn and regurgitation.

- As videofluoroscopy in order to monitor patients with long-term swallowing difficulties.


- None.


- The radiologist should be supplied with the patient history.

- A full explanation of the procedure should be given to the patient.

- If views of the stomach are required, patient is nil by mouth for 4-6 hours prior to the procedure. 

- Some outpatient centres request the patient not to smoke for three hours prior to the procedure.


- Patient lies prone on an X-ray table.

- A mouthful of barium is given through a straw.

- Patient is asked to swallow and images are taken as barium passes through oropharynx into oesophagus.

- Radiologist views the passage of barium until it enters the stomach.

- As the barium passes the lower oesophageal sphincter the radiologist asks the patient to take a deep breath to assess the effect of diaphragmatic movement.

- Several swallows may be used.

- For patients with problems swallowing solids the barium may be mixed with food, such as biscuits.

- When sufficient images have been obtained the patient can sit up.


During the procedure:

- Observe patient’s tolerance of the procedure, for example pain;

- Provide reassurance, commentary and support;

- Watch out for any unexpected events, such as vomiting, cardiorespiratory depression, or vasovagal reactions;

- Ensure resuscitation equipment is to hand.

- Note: each barium study exposes patients and staff to radioactivity. The longer the study, the greater this exposure will be. As a result, all staff take precautions to prevent exposure and the radiographer will document the amount of exposure each patient receives.


- Assess and document patient’s status on completing the procedure.

- Document all care given and any unusual events that occur.

- Provide written instructions regarding diet, medications, activity restrictions, follow-up and possible complications.

- The patient’s stools may be lighter in colour for a few days due to the ingestion of barium.


- Normal swallow with good coordination and peristalsis. Normal oesophageal mucosa.

- Oesophageal: webs; neoplasms; dysmotility; achalasia; diverticula; gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and oesophagitis; poor swallowing coordination.


- Major complication: aspiration.

- Minor complications: constipation, nausea and belching.

  • Comment

Related files

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.