What is a barium swallow?

A barium swallow shows an outline of the oesophagus and stomach on a plain X-ray, by way of barium as a contrast medium which is swallowed by the patient.

It may show irregularities of the usual smooth outline, caused by strictures (narrowing) or ulceration – damage to the mucosa (lining) of the oesophagus.

How is a barium swallow performed?

A barium swallow involves drinking some liquid which shows up on an X-ray. This contrast medium shows up as white on a plain X-ray taken soon after swallowing. The barium shows up the inside of the oesophagus (food pipe) and stomach, and gives an idea of their lining surfaces (mucosa).

When would you need a barium swallow?

A barium swallow may be requested by your doctor if you have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or painful swallowing (odynophagia).

These symptoms may indicate:

  • A narrowing in the oesophagus (known as a stricture)
  • Ulceration or inflammation of the oesophagus (oesophagitis)
  • Failure of normal relaxation of the oesophagus during swallowing (achalasia)

A barium swallow may also sometimes show an abnormality in the stomach such as an ulcer or a tumour.

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Barium swallow results explained

Barium swallow results are sent to your doctor after the images have been interpreted by the Radiologist. One of the conditions mentioned above may be diagnosed, or further tests may be required if the test is inconclusive.

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Also known as

  • Barium oesophagram
  • Barium meal



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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

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