Barium Swallow

What Is Barium Swallow?

A barium swallow is a special type of X-ray test that takes a close look at the back of your mouth and throat and down the food pipe (the oesophagus).

It is used to investigate swallowing difficulties and help diagnose disorders of the oesophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestine or gut (the duodenum). It used to detect blockages and diagnose the conditions which cause them, such as hiatal hernia (where part of the stomach is pushed up into the bottom of the food pipe), muscle disorders or achalasia (where nerve spasms make swallowing food difficult).

A barium swallow is just one investigation to diagnose swallowing problems and are generally performed as part of a series of tests. A common test that accompanies the barium swallow is the upper GI endoscopy (also known as a camera down the throat) which creates a more visual look of the oesophagus which provides additional information on the patient’s condition.

What happens during a barium swallow?

  • The patient should fast at least 6 hours before the procedure, but can have small sips of water up to 2 hours prior
  • The patient swallows a thick drink which looks like a milkshake which contains barium mixes with water. This liquid coats the inside of the food pipe
  • The patient will be taken to a room with an X-ray machine. Because barium absorbs X-rays and looks white on X-ray film it helps to highlight the cell lining and the motion of swallowing, on the X-ray image. These images help your doctor diagnose swallowing difficulties
  • The patient may be asked to drink a thinner milkshake during the procedure, to see how it moves down the oesophagus into the stomach or if it sits in the food pipe or if there is any reflux/vomiting
  • The procedure takes around 30 minutes
  • Barium can cause constipation, so be mindful to eat high fibre foods and drink plenty of water before and after your procedure or ask to be prescribed a laxative. Your poos may be lighter in colour

Get In Touch

For any enquiries about conditions, tests or treatments, please feel free to call Dr Rehan Haidry’s medical secretary Debra Hyams on:

Tel: 0203 423 7609  |  Email: