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