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Upper Gastrointestinal (UGI) Series

An upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series looks at the upper and middle sections of the gastrointestinal tract camera.gif. The test uses barium contrast material, fluoroscopy, and X-ray. Before the test, you drink a mix of barium (barium contrast material) and water. The barium is often combined with gas-making crystals. Your doctor watches the movement of the barium through your esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine (duodenum camera.gif) on a video screen. Several X-ray pictures are taken at different times and from different views.

A small bowel follow-through may be done immediately after a UGI to look at the rest of the small intestine. If just the throat and esophagus are looked at, it is called an esophagram (or barium swallow). See barium swallow images camera.gif.

Upper endoscopy is done instead of a UGI in certain cases. Endoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) to look at the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine (duodenum).

Why It Is Done

An upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series is done to:

  • Find the cause of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as trouble swallowing, vomiting, burping up food, belly pain (including a burning or gnawing pain in the center of the stomach), or indigestion.
  • Find narrow spots (strictures) in the upper intestinal tract, ulcers, tumors, polyps, or pyloric stenosis.
  • Find inflamed areas of the intestine, malabsorption syndrome, or problems with the squeezing motion that moves food through the intestines (motility disorders).
  • Find swallowed objects.

Generally, a UGI series is not used if you do not have symptoms of a gastrointestinal problem. A UGI series is done most often for people who have:

  • A hard time swallowing.
  • A possible blocked intestine (obstruction).
  • Belly pain that is relieved or gets worse while eating.
  • Severe heartburn or heartburn that occurs often.

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are taking any medicine.
  • Are allergic to any medicines, barium, or any other X-ray contrast material.
  • Are or might be pregnant. This test is not done during pregnancy because of the risk of radiation to the developing baby (fetus).

You may be asked to eat a low-fiber diet for 2 or 3 days before the test. You may also be asked to stop eating for 12 hours before the test. Your doctor will tell you if you need to stop taking certain medicines before the test.

The evening before the test, you may be asked to take a laxative to help clean out your intestines. If your stomach can't empty well on its own, you may have a special tube put through your nose and down into your stomach just before the test begins. A gentle suction on the tube will drain the stomach contents.

If you are having the small bowel follow-through after the UGI series, you will need to wait between X-rays. The entire small bowel follow-through exam takes up to 6 hours, so bring along a book to read or some other quiet activity.

You may be asked to sign a consent form. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

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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