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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Barium meal Q&As

What is a barium meal?

A barium meal is used to take x-ray pictures of your stomach and gullet (oesophagus). Sometimes doctors use a barium meal to look at the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum). This is called a barium meal and follow through.

You can have a barium meal as an out-patient. The test is usually carried out in a hospital x-ray department and takes about 30 minutes.

Before the test your stomach should be as empty as possible. Generally you should not eat or drink anything for at least six hours beforehand. If you usually take medicines, you may be asked not to on the day of the test but to bring them with you to the hospital.

You will be given a cup of barium to drink. This is a chalky white fluid. It is often fruit flavoured and is not unpleasant to drink. The barium coats the lining of your gullet and stomach so that it shows up on x-rays.

You will also be asked to swallow some fizzy tablets or granules, with a liquid. These 'fizz up' in your stomach and make gas. This helps the barium to coat the stomach and makes it easier to see all of the stomach on the x-rays. It is important not to belch once you have taken them. You may feel a bit bloated, as if you have had a fizzy drink.

You may also be given an injection into a vein in your hand or arm. This is given to relax the stomach, so that it doesn't move while the x-rays are taken. The injection might make your vision blurred for about an hour afterwards. If so, you are best not to drive until this side-effect wears off.

After you have had the barium you will have a number of x-ray pictures taken. You may have some taken while you are standing and some while you are lying down. You may also be asked to lie in different positions. This may take about 10-15 minutes.

If you are having x-ray pictures taken of your duodenum, a barium meal and follow through, the test will take longer, about, two to three hours. As the barium moves through the intestine you will have x-rays taken every 30 minutes or so.

You can eat and drink normally once the test is completed. It usually takes a couple of days for the barium to pass out of your system. During this time your bowel motions may be white or paler than normal and be more difficult to flush. Sometimes people become constipated after a barium meal. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating fibre and fruit can help to prevent this.

The person who carries out the test, the radiographer or radiologist, will be able to tell you when you will get the results of your test. Usually they are available within two weeks.

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