IBS Tales Home > About IBS > Upper GI Series

upper gi series

What is an upper GI series?

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series uses x-rays to diagnose problems in the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (first part of the small intestine). It may also be used to examine the small intestine. The upper GI series can show a blockage, abnormal growth, ulcer, or a problem with the way an organ is working.

What happens during an upper GI series?

During the procedure, you will drink barium, a thick, white, milkshake-like liquid. Barium coats the inside lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum, and makes them show up more clearly on x-rays. The radiologist can also see ulcers, scar tissue, abnormal growths, hernias, or areas where something is blocking the normal path of food through the digestive system.

Using a machine called a fluoroscope, the radiologist is also able to watch your digestive system work as the barium moves through it. This part of the procedure shows any problems in how the digestive system functions, for example, whether the muscles that control swallowing are working properly. As the barium moves into the small intestine, the radiologist can take x-rays of it as well.

An upper GI series takes one to two hours. X-rays of the small intestine may take three to five hours. The procedure is not uncomfortable, but the barium may cause constipation and white-colored stool for a few days after the procedure.

How do you prepare for an upper GI series?

Your stomach and small intestine must be empty for the procedure to be accurate, so the night before you will not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight. Your physician may give you other specific instructions.

What results will I have if I am suffering from IBS?

If you have IBS then the doctors will not see any abnormalities in the x-rays.

upper gi series experiences

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although some people find these tests uncomfortable and occasionally painful, they are vital diagnostic tools. I would always recommend having any and all of these tests if they are recommended by your doctor. You should also make sure you follow your doctor's preparation instructions carefully.

The tale of...Sean

I was (and still am) suffering from severe pain in my stomach that comes at seemingly random times. This pain can literally put me on the ground and lasts anything from an hour up to six hours. The doctors had me abstain from any food or liquid by mouth between midnight and the time of my exam (about 10am).

When I went into the prep room they had me change into a lovely hospital gown. They then took me into a darkened x-ray room and briefly explained what I needed to do. They had me stand on the machine (sort of an upright x-ray bed) and gave me a paper cup of gaseous liquid (about 10% liquid and 90% gas). Don't smell it. Just gulp it.

After I gulped it I was so glad I did. It is extremely bitter (I think that's the right term) like a super-sour candy gone bad that fizzes into your taste buds. It really isn't that bad, but I could taste how bad it 'would' have been, had I drank it slower. They also wanted it gulped for effectiveness.

They then had me face a certain direction and took a few x-rays. Next they gave me another cup, standard red plastic party-size cup. This was filled with the tasty barium. This is slightly chalky-tasting and thick. It is gross. Once again I gulped it (whole cup) and then they laid me on the x-ray table and proceeded with more x-rays. While doing the x-rays they have you turn on your sides to move the liquid around and get different views.

Next, they gave me yet another full cup of barium (while lying down). They had me drink it through a large straw. Surprisingly I drank that in two gulps (started getting very disgusting). Again, more rolling on my sides. It took a little while for my stomach to lose the barium into my intestines so they had me go to the prep room and continue to drink one last cup of barium.

By the first gulp I was regurgitating the barium. I lost the ability to swallow it. I moved to sipping it for a few sips. Then I pathetically sipped the most insignificant amount every half a minute. I finally came to the point where I could touch it without wanting to lose it. So I told them and they said that was fine and there should be enough in me.

So we went to one other x-ray room (lighter) and the doctor performed some quick x-rays and I was done. He said he 'thought' he saw an ulcer but on the second look he was wrong (not too comforting). Nonetheless, everything came out normal with the tests, except that my stomach was slightly inflamed. Still not sure why, but my GI said that can happen. I feel cursed with lousy doctors, but that is my fun story. Wasn't bad at all other than the barium after a few cups.

The tale of...Dana

It was a couple of years ago when I had this procedure done. There wasn't really anything to it. The worst part of it was having to drink the white stuff. They also gave me something to drink before that to prevent gas from getting blocked. It didn't take very long at all and just before they finished they took x-rays of me lying down, as the rest were taken while standing up. Everything showed up good. Piece of cake, and better then having to get the enema done, which was uncomfortable.