What Is an Upper GI and Small Bowel Series?
When you swallow a piece of food, it travels through your:
- small intestine
Sometimes, however, food doesn’t travel properly through the
digestive system. This can result in nausea, stomach discomfort, and abdominal
If you have these or other symptoms, your doctor may recommend an
upper gastrointestinal (GI) and small bowel series. This painless imaging test
allows your doctor to visualize these areas and track down the problem.
What Is the Purpose of the Test?
Your doctor uses the upper GI and small bowel test to detect
abnormalities in the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The test can
pinpoint conditions ranging from slow intestinal movement to swallowing
disorders and scarring in your digestive tract.
How Is the Test Performed?
The upper GI and small bowel series mimic the flow of food from
your mouth to your small intestine. You’ll be advised to stop eating for a
certain time period before the test. You also should refrain from taking
certain medications that may affect the test’s outcome, such as antacids,
narcotics, or anticholinergics.
When you arrive, you’ll consume a drink with a thick consistency
that’s similar to a milkshake. The drink contains barium, a substance that will show up
when taking X-rays. Always tell your doctor if you think you may be allergic to
radiologic contrast materials.
Your imaging technologist will take several images of you during
the process. The images will show the barium moving through your digestive
The time the test takes varies between 20 minutes to four hours.
During this time, X-rays may be taken in sitting or standing positions to
obtain different views of your body. You’ll be instructed to hold your breath
and remain as still as possible while the X-rays are taken.
After the test is over, drink plenty of fluids and foods high in
fiber. This helps to keep the barium moving through your system. The barium can
cause your stool to be lighter in color for 24 to 72 hours after the procedure.
Unless your doctor directs you otherwise, you can return to your normal diet
following the test.
What Are the Complications Associated with
Because the test involves X-ray imaging, you’re exposed to a
small degree of radioactive material. However, the risk for adverse effects due
to radiation exposure is minimal.
If you’ve been experiencing stomach pains or difficulty with
digestion, you may have trouble passing the barium through your digestive
system. Tell your doctor if you haven’t passed light-colored stools within two
to three days after the procedure. This can indicate you haven’t passed the
Understanding Your Test Results
It may take your doctor several days to review and evaluate the
results of your upper GI and small bowel test. Your doctor will examine the
scans to determine how well and how fast the barium traveled through your
Abnormalities in your esophagus could pinpoint:
- achalasia, which is a disorder affecting esophagus’
ability to move food into the stomach
- diverticula, which is an abnormal pouch or sac
in the esophagus
- esophageal cancer
- a narrowing of the esophagus
- a hiatal hernia, which occurs when a part of the
stomach sticks through an opening in the diaphragm and juts up into the chest
Abnormalities in the stomach could indicate:
- stomach cancer
- an ulcer
- inflammation of the stomach lining
- pyloric stenosis, which is a condition in which the
stomach’s opening to the small intestine, or the pylorus, becomes narrowed
Abnormalities in the small intestine can indicate:
- poor absorption
- inflammation of the small intestine
- a tumor
- an ulcer
Your doctor may order more laboratory tests before they’re able
to give you a diagnosis. Once your doctor gives you a diagnosis, they’ll work
with you to create a treatment plan that helps you manage your symptoms.