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Upper gastrointestinal series - Contrast Agent Imaging

Upper gastrointestinal series - Contrast Agent Imaging

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What is an upper gastrointestinal series?
The procedure (barium swallow, exam of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, and small bowel follow-through) uses x-rays to acquire a series of images and is usually performed using a single contrast agent: your child will either drink a contrast liquid (through a feeding bottle, straw, etc.) that is visible on x-rays or have it administered by placing a thin tube through your child's nose.

The contrast agent is safe, non-toxic, and can be administered straight or diluted with water.

Why is it done?
An upper GI series is used to study the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (first part of the small intestine) to evaluate their structure and function by monitoring the flow of the contrast agent through the gastrointestinal tract.

It is used to detect some abnormalities (for example intestinal malrotation and stenosis) that cannot be identified using other techniques. They may include factors associated with gastroesophageal reflux such as hiatal hernia and intestinal obstruction.

It is not recommended as a first exam to identify gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What happens during the procedure?
Your child must be on an empty stomach. Your child should not have anything to eat or drink for at least three hours for newborns and six hours for older children prior to the exam.

The exam does not require anaesthesia or sedation: in order to perform the test accurately and depending on your child's age, non-collaborative children may need special equipment (immobilizing devices) such as straps, foam pads, sandbags to keep them still, safe (to keep them from falling off the exam table), and to avoid having to repeat the exam.

The immobilizing devices may leave temporary marks on children because their skin is very fragile, but falling off the radiography table is certainly worse!

In cases of non-collaborative children we request the presence of one parent who, fitted with the appropriate lead apron, stays near the child in order to distract him/her (for example talking with him/her during the exam).

Your child will be given the contrast agent (sometimes called a contrast meal) to drink and as it flows, the radiologist/technologist will take x-rays using a fluoroscopy machine. Your child will be asked to move around in different positions in order to get a complete view of the gastrointestinal tract.


There are few risks and side effects to this procedure.

Side effects are rare and the most common is aspiration of the contrast agent during the swallow, or rather, the contrast agent enters the lungs.

Allergic reactions, although very rare, are always possible. Each room is equipped with oxygen tanks/suction devices for emergencies.

The dose of radiation your child receives is extremely low and can be compared to the amount of natural baseline radiation our bodies are exposed to in the first few days of life.

Our highly trained staff and regular equipment maintenance and updating allows us to carry out diagnostic exams and acquire images with the necessary information for accurate diagnosis using the lowest possible dose of radiation.