Barium Enema (BE), Upper GI Series, Small Bowel Series

 Understanding GI imaging tests     

Gastrointestinal imaging at Piedmont Health provides various imaging services to help diagnose digestive disorders and conditions. 

An upper GI and small bowel series is a set of X-rays taken to examine the esophagus, stomach and small intestine. X-rays are taken after the patient has swallowed a barium suspension (contrast medium). X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation like light but of higher energy, so they can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Dense structures (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray. The barium is very dense and will appear white on the X-ray film.

The passage of the barium through the esophagus, stomach and small intestine is monitored on a fluoroscope. Pictures are taken with you in a variety of positions. The test usually takes around three hours. However, it may take up to six hours to complete in some cases.

A GI series may include this test or a barium enema.

A barium enema may be done in an office or a hospital radiology department. You lie on the X-ray table, and a preliminary X-ray is taken. You then lie on your side while a well-lubricated enema tube is inserted gently into your rectum.

Barium, a radiopaque (shows up on X-ray) contrast medium, is then allowed to flow into your colon. A small balloon at the tip of the enema tube may be inflated to help keep the barium inside. The flow of the barium is monitored by the health care provider on an X-ray fluoroscope screen, which is like a TV monitor. Air may be puffed into the colon to distend (expand) it and provide better images.

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