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A barium follow-through is like a barium meal. But it looks for problems beyond the stomach, in the small intestine. This test is also known as a small bowel meal.
You prepare for this test in much the same way as you would prepare for a barium swallow and meal. You may also have to take a mild laxative to clear your bowel before you come to the hospital.
To start the procedure, you drink a couple of cups of barium liquid. Once the barium has reached your small bowel – perhaps 10 to 15 minutes – you go into the X-ray room. You have X-rays taken lying on the examination table. the radiologist may press on your abdomen at some points or ask you to change position. This is to help improve the images.
You have X-rays taken around every 15 minutes or so, until the barium has reached the end of your small bowel. If the barium is slow to move through your small bowel, the doctor may give you an injection of anti-sickness medicine to speed things up.
A barium follow-through test takes between 45 minutes and three hours. You can go home afterwards and eat and drink normally. Your poo will look white or pale for a few days afterwards.
The tests for children and babies are done in much the same way as for adults. A barium swallow and meal test are sometimes carried out in children if they:
- have swallowing problems
- have pain in the upper abdomen (tummy)
- keep being sick
- may have gastro-oesophageal reflux – fluid from your child’s stomach coming back up the oesophagus (gullet)
Your child’s stomach needs to be empty before they have the test. How long they can’t eat or drink beforehand depends on their age. For very young children it’s usually two hours and for older children four hours.
Children usually drink the barium without any problems. It’s like a slightly chalky milkshake with flavourings to make it taste nicer. They can have it in a cup, a bottle with a teat or gently squirted through a syringe into their mouth. Sometimes the radiologist may recommend giving the barium through a thin tube, put up your child’s nose and down into their stomach.
You can usually stay with your child during their procedure. You’ll have to wear a lead apron for protection from the X-rays. But you can’t stay in the room if you’re pregnant. There’s a risk that the X-ray radiation could harm your unborn baby.
These tests are similar, but they give different information. Both use X-ray images to look at swallowing and involve drinking barium liquid. The main difference with video fluoroscopy is that your doctor can watch how you swallow in real time, on video. You may have to swallow a range of consistencies of foods, both liquids and solids.
Other names for this test include modified barium swallow (MBS) or dysphagia barium swallow. Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing.
This test is particularly useful if there are problems with nerves or muscles involved in swallowing. It may be used for:
- young children with feeding problems
- people who’ve had a stroke and are at risk of choking as they swallow
As well as a radiographer and radiologist, there may be a speech and language therapist there during the test. They’ll help to explain what you need to do to ensure that good images are recorded.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals and deemed accurate on the date of review. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.
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