A barium swallow test is a procedure designed to determine the cause of painful swallowing or swallowing problems, otherwise known as dysphagia. A barium swallow test can also determine the exact issue causing the swallowing disorder, such as spasms of the esophagus, abnormally enlarged veins in the esophagus, narrowing or irritation of the esophagus, ulcers, tumors, or polyps.
Barium sulfate is used to identify abnormalities in the stomach and esophagus because it is a metal compound that can be seen on X-rays. During a barium swallow test, you drink a preparation containing this solution, and X-rays are used to watch as it travels through your digestive system.
From start to finish, the barium swallow test usually takes about 30 minutes to complete. However, in some cases, the testing process may take up to an hour to finish. During the testing process, you will lie on a table and be asked to swallow the barium mixture. At certain points during the test, you will be asked to take more swallows of the mixture, and the table will be tilted at various angles as the barium moves through your digestive system.
Once the barium swallow test is over, you will be able to resume your normal daily activities and, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, you will be able to eat a normal diet. Following the test, it is encouraged that you drink plenty of fluids to prevent and alleviate constipation and eat foods containing fiber, such as raw fruits and vegetables.