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Upper Gastrointestinal (UGI) Series

How It Feels

The barium liquid is thick and chalky, and some people find it hard to swallow. A sweet flavor, like chocolate or strawberry, is used to make it easier to drink. Some people do not like it when the X-ray table tilts. You may find that pressure on your belly is uncomfortable. After the test, many people feel bloated and a little nauseated.

For 1 to 3 days after the test, your stool (feces) will look white from the barium. Call your doctor if you are not able to have a bowel movement in 2 to 3 days after the test. If the barium stays in your intestine, it can harden and cause a blockage. If you become constipated, you may need to use a laxative to pass a stool.

Risks

Barium does not move into the blood, so allergic reactions are very rare.

Some people gag while drinking the barium fluid. In rare cases, a person may choke and inhale (aspirate) some of the liquid into the lungs.

There is a small chance that the barium will block the intestine or leak into the belly through a perforated ulcer. A special type of contrast material (Gastrografin) can be used if you have a blockage or an ulcer.

There is always a small chance of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, even the low level of radiation used for this test.

Results

An upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series looks at the upper and middle sections of the gastrointestinal tract camera.gif. Results are usually ready in 1 to 3 days.

Upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series
Normal:

The esophagus, stomach, and small intestine all look normal.

Abnormal:

A narrowing (stricture), inflammation, a mass, a hiatal hernia, or enlarged veins (varices) may be seen. Spasms of the esophagus or a backward flow (reflux) of barium from the stomach may occur.

The UGI series may show a stomach (gastric) or intestinal (duodenal) ulcer, a tumor, or something pushing on the intestines from outside the gastrointestinal tract. Narrowing of the opening between the stomach and the small intestine (pyloric stenosis) may be seen.

The small bowel follow-through may show inflammation or changes in the lining that may explain poor absorption of food. This may be caused by Crohn's disease or celiac disease.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • Eating before or during the test.
  • Too much air in the small intestine.

What To Think About

  • A gastrointestinal (GI) motility study may be done if the squeezing motions of the small intestine are not normal during the UGI series and small bowel follow-through. The movement of the barium through the lower intestinal tract is recorded every few hours for up to 24 hours. A barium enema or colonoscopy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Upper endoscopy is done instead of a UGI test in certain cases. Endoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) to look at the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine (duodenum). To learn more, see the medical test Upper Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
  • The UGI series test:
    • May not show irritation of the stomach lining (gastritis) or esophagus (esophagitis) or ulcers that are smaller than about 0.25 in. (6 mm) in diameter.
    • Cannot show an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pyloriHelicobacter pylori, which may be a cause of stomach ulcers.
  • A biopsy cannot be done during the UGI if a problem is found.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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