What Is an Upper GI Series?

Your GI tract is the path that food takes through your body. GI stands for "gastrointestinal," which means "stomach and intestines."

An upper GI series is a group of X-ray tests that look at your food pipe (the esophagus), stomach, and the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum) while they're working. It's sometimes called UGI for short.

Who Needs an Upper GI Series?

Doctors use a UGI to learn why your gut isn't working right. You may have symptoms like:

It might also help explain why you're losing weight when you don't mean to.

Getting Ready

Your doctor will probably ask you not to eat, drink, or chew gum overnight or in the morning before you have this test. Your stomach must be empty, because food makes it hard to see your GI tract on X-rays.

Ask your doctor if it's OK to take your usual medicines with a small sip of water. Tell your doctor if you have any allergies or take supplements.

Also let your doctor know if there's a chance you might be pregnant. X-rays could harm your baby.

How It's Done

You need to go to a hospital or location that does the test. It's not something the doctor can do in their office.

A technician and a radiologist will guide you through it. They won't have to put any devices or instruments inside your body, and you'll be awake. An upper GI may make you feel a little bloated or crampy, but you won't need any pain medicine.

To start, you'll drink a special liquid with barium. It looks like a milkshake, but doesn't much taste like one. This coats the lining of your GI tract so it's easier to see.

The technician will take some X-rays while you do that.

If you're having a kind of UGI called a double-contrast series, you'll also swallow some fizzy tablets. They'll create gas bubbles to expand your stomach for a better view. They may make you want to burp, but try not to. The technician will take more X-rays.

Continued

Then you'll lie down for a different X-ray test called fluoroscopy. It follows the barium as it moves through you. The radiologist will watch pictures on a screen, like a movie, to see how your GI tract is working.

During the test, you may need to move around a little, or the table you're on may tilt to get the barium to coat your whole GI tract. You might have to drink more barium to make sure no spots are missed.

The whole process usually takes about 2 hours. It could take as long as 5 hours if the barium moves slowly in your small intestine.

After the Test

You can drive and eat as soon as your upper GI series is over.

Drink lots of water to help flush out the barium. It can turn your poop white and make going to the bathroom hard.

Tell your doctor if you haven't had a bowel movement after 2 days, your stomach hurts a lot, or you have a fever.

Results

The test can show:

A radiologist will study your X-rays and send a report to your doctor.

Depending on what they find, you might need more tests. Or you may start your treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 2, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Upper GI Series."

Sutter Health CMPC: "Learning About Your Health: Upper GI Series."

RadiologyInfo.org: "X-ray (Radiography) - Upper GI Tract."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Barium Swallow (Upper Gastrointestinal Series or "Upper GI Series")."

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