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X-Ray Exams of the Digestive Tract

What Happens After the GI Tests?

Generally you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately after your GI tests. But, drink plenty of fluids (unless fluid is restricted for another medical condition), especially if the test is an upper GI and/or small bowel series. The barium tends to constipate people. Drinking 8-10 glasses of water or juice per day for three days will help you to eliminate the barium from your colon.

It is normal for your stool to have a white or light color for up to three days after the test.

The barium enema given during the lower GI test may cause you to feel week or dizzy.

Are These GI Tests Safe?

There is virtually no risk with the upper and lower GI tests, unless they are repeated several times within a few months' time, when radiation exposure can become a risk. Although radiation exposure is minimal, it is greater than for standard still X-rays. Steps will be taken during the test to minimize radiation exposure.

Other risks include:

  • Infection (very low risk with both the upper and lower GI tests)
  • Tearing the intestinal wall during a lower GI test. Should this occur, surgery may be necessary. This is a very rare complication.

Who Should Not Receive GI Tests?

If you have an existing blockage or tear in the intestinal wall, the upper and lower GI tests should not be performed.

If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, you should not have these tests unless absolutely medically necessary. Talk to your doctor about other tests that can be more safely performed to diagnose your problem during pregnancy.

When to Call Your Doctor After GI Tests

After the GI tests, call your doctor if you have:

  • A temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. This could be a sign of infection and should be treated right away.
  • A marked change in bowel habits (such as no bowel movement in two or three days after the test). Remember, it is normal for your stool to have a white or light color for up to three days after the test.
  • Worsening of pain
  • Any unusual rectal drainage
  • Other symptoms that cause concern
  • Questions about the test or the results
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on July 20, 2012

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