Barium is a contrast material that can be used to outline hollow organs or tubes of the body during medical imaging tests. An esophagram is an inspection of the esophagus, which connects the throat to the stomach. So a barium esophagram is a procedure that simply uses barium as a marker to indicate what is happening in the esophagus. The barium will mark the lining of the esophagus so any abnormalities will appear as bumps or depressions. It will also show the general shape of the esophagus, allowing detection of abnormal narrowed or widened areas.
This test is often used to diagnose conditions in patients who are experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, vomiting or pain or burning in the chest.
What Happens During a Barium Esophagram?
During a barium esophagram, also known as a barium swallow x-ray test (although CT scans may also be used), the patient is asked to swallow the barium, which sometimes has a few gas producing crystals added to it. As the barium travels down the esophagus to the stomach and a part of the small intestines, several x-rays are taken simultaneously at various intervals and from several different angles.
Preparing for a Barium Esophagram
Your physician may request that you modify the medications you are currently taking prior to the test. You will be asked not eat or drink anything for the 12 hours prior to having the procedure. Patients are also often asked not to smoke 12 hours before having a barium esophagram. Women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, should speak with their physician before having a barium esophagram.