X-Ray Exams of the Digestive Tract
What Happens During the GI Tests
During GI testing:
- You will be positioned on a tilting X-ray table by the technologist. For an upper GI test, the table usually starts in a vertical position, with the person standing. For a lower GI test, the table usually starts in a horizontal position, with the person lying on his or her back or stomach. The table will be tilted at various angles during the test to help spread the barium solution throughout the body so that different views can be seen on the fluoroscope. During the test, the radiologist may put pressure on your abdomen to get a clearer image on the fluoroscope.
- Although the barium solution given in an upper GI test is unpleasant tasting, there is no pain and little discomfort during the procedure. The lower GI test may cause some discomfort, including cramps and a strong urge to have a bowel movement.
- After the barium enema is administered in a lower GI test and a few X-rays are taken, you will be helped to the bathroom (or given a bedpan) and asked to move your bowels to expel as much of the barium as possible. Then you will go back to the X-ray examination room where more X-rays will be taken of the barium solution that remains on the lining of the intestine. In some cases, air will be injected slowly into the colon (air contrast barium enema) to provide further contrast on the X-rays to detect abnormalities.
After the GI Tests
Generally, you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately after your GI tests. Unless fluid is restricted by your doctor for another medical condition, drink plenty of water or juice -- 8-10 glasses each day for three days -- 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, and the barium enema given during a lower GI test may leave you feeling weak or dizzy.
The Risks of GI Tests
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.