What is a barium test ?
A barium test is a procedure performed by giving the patient a liquid preparation to drink, and then taking x-ray pictures at appropriate intervals. These tests are done to find out abnormalities of the gastro-intestinal tract - the food pipe (barium swallow), the stomach and duodenum (Ba-Stomach-duodenum), and appendix and small intestines (Barium meal follow through / small bowel enema). Studies for the large bowel (large intestine) are also performed by passing a similar type of liquid barium preparation through the anal canal and then taking x-ray pictures of the large intestine.
How should I prepare myself ?
Almost all these tests need you to be fasting overnight (no water, breakfast or tea); a mild laxative and / or an anti flatulent may be prescribed to you at bedtime, a day prior to the procedure to enable you to clear your bowels. For a barium enema, a similar preparation may be required, and / or a simple enema may be performed the previous night and / or on the morning of the procedure.
What should I tell the doctor before we begin ?
This test should be avoided during pregnancy as it involves the use of x-rays which are harmful for the developing foetus. This test is also avoided if there is a perforation of the intestines or a severe, acute diarrhoea (for barium enema). Sometimes a preliminary x-ray is helpful in determining whether the test should be carried out or not.
What will I experience during the procedure ?
The barium mixture is a mildly flavoured preparation which tastes like a usual antacid preparation. It is not tasty but not unpalatable either ! While performing the test, you may be asked to turn from side to side to capture pictures from various angles. Most of these tests will require a fluroscopy or IITV x-ray device which is an extension of the usual x-ray machine. There is no pain or discomfort encountered during the procedure. Certian tests like a barium meal follow through may take a few hours to complete.