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Radiology (Xray)

Barium swallow and meal

Appointment: RVI: (0191) 282 4330; Freeman Hospital: (0191) 223 1012

What is a barium swallow and meal?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • It is an x-ray examination of the gullet (oesophagus) and stomach.  We will ask you to drink a white liquid called barium which shows up on the x-rays.

Why do I need a barium swallow and meal?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Your doctor has referred you for this test to find out what may be causing your symptoms.

Who performs the barium swallow and meal?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • The examination will be performed by a radiologist (medical doctor who specialises in interpreting diagnostic imaging) or a radiographer (a health professional trained to perform imaging procedures).The radiologist or radiographer will explain what happens and will show you what to do.

Do I need any special preparation before the examination?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • It is important that your stomach is empty before the examination and therefore please have no food, drink or tablets for six hours before your appointment time. Your tablets can be brought with you to have as soon as your examination is complete. Printed instructions are included with your appointment letter. Please read these carefully.

For patients with an appointment scheduled in the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in the afternoon.Show [+]Hide [-]

  • It is important that your stomach is empty before the examination and therefore you will not be able to have any food or drink six hours before your examination. Printed instructions are included with your appointment letter. Please read these carefully.

I have diabetes. Does this change anything?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Yes. If you are diabetic you should have a morning appointment. Please ring the appropriate help-line telephone number below if your appointment time is not scheduled in the morning. Please bring your medication and some food with you to take after the examination.
  • RVI X-ray Appointments               0191 282 5627 (Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.00pm)
  • Freeman X-ray Appointments     0191 223 1012 (Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.00pm)

I take metformin (Glucophage, Avandamet) tablets. Does this change anything?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Yes.  Metformin (Glucophage, Avandamet) is most commonly taken by diabetic patients to control blood sugar, but occasionally is taken for other conditions.  If you are taking metformin, your preparation for the procedure may change.  Please ring the appropriate help-line telephone number, as above, and speak to a member of staff, who will be able to advise you.

What does the examination involve?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • A radiographer or nurse will ask you to undress and put on a hospital gown and dressing gown.
  • In the x-ray room we will ask you to stand on an upright x-ray table and drink some flavoured barium liquid to outline your oesophagus and stomach, and some fizzy granules with a small amount of lemon flavoured liquid.
  • The granules fizz and form wind in your stomach. It is important to try to keep the wind down to enable the doctor to produce good images
  • During the examination the doctor will tilt the examination stand so that you move from the standing position to lying down and ask you to turn into different positions for the x-rays to be taken.

Will I need an injection?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Some patients need an injection of an antispasmodic such as Buscopan to relax their stomach muscles (only if having the barium meal), as part of the examination. Following this injection you may experience some blurred vision but this will only last a short while.

How long will it take?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • The examination usually takes between 20 to 30 minutes. However, it is sometimes necessary to take additional delayed films, and so it is advisable to allow one to one and a half hours in the department.

How does it feel? Are there any after effects?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Some people may feel a little discomfort and bloating during the test caused by the fizzy granules. This quickly wears off.  In the few days after examination your stools may turn white. This is the barium working through your system, and is helped by drinking plenty of water and eating some fresh fruit to help prevent constipation.

What are the benefits of having a barium swallow and meal?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • This examination will help us make the correct diagnosis so you will be able to be given the correct treatment.

What are the risks of having a barium swallow and meal?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • We are all exposed to natural background radiation every day of our lives. Each x-
  • ray examination gives us a small additional dose. This dose varies with each type of examination. Everything is done within the x-ray department to minimise this dose. X-rays may be harmful to an unborn child, especially in the earlier stages of pregnancy.
  • There are very few risks associated with the barium liquid as it is not absorbed by the body. It only coats the lining of the oesophagus, stomach and bowel. However patients with oesophageal or bowel perforation and in cases of bowel obstruction should not have barium.  For a small number of patients there is a small risk of aspiration (inhaling the barium liquid). This is unlikely but the risk increases with patients with known difficulties or previous aspiration problems.

When will I get my results?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • After your scan has finished we will not be able to tell you the results as the reporting radiologist or radiographer will need to study the images carefully.  If you have come from home, the results will be sent back to the doctor who referred you for your scan.  This process takes approximately two weeks, so unless other arrangements have been made you should expect to hear something after this time.  If you are undergoing planned investigations on a ward, the result will be sent to the ward as soon as possible.  The doctors on the ward will be able to discuss the findings with you. 

Can I drive home?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Yes.  If you have a Buscopan antispasmodic injection during your examination you may have to wait 20 to 30 minutes until your eyesight has returned to normal before driving.

I need an ambulance/ transport. Do you arrange it?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • No.  If you need an ambulance/ transport, you should ask your GP Surgery to arrange it. You will need to give them three working days’ notice.  Please note that hospital transport is provided on medical need only.

What if I cannot attend for my appointment? Show [+]Hide [-]

  • If your appointment time is not convenient please contact the hospital department so that a more appropriate time can be arranged.  This will enable us to reallocate valuable scanning time to someone else:
  • RVI X-ray Appointments               0191 282 5627 (Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.00pm)
  • Freeman X-ray Appointments     0191 223 1012 (Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.00pm)

What if I have any comments, questions or suggestions?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Should you have any suggestions or concerns, please make these known to the person conducting your examination or by letter addressed to the hospital that you are attending your examination:
  • The Departmental Manager, X-ray Department, Level 3, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Queen Victoria Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4LP
  • The Departmental Manager, Main X-ray Department, Freeman Hospital, High Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7DN
  • Tel: 0191 282 1099
  • Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.00pm
  • All Newcastle Hospitals: Switchboard tel: 0191 233 6161 (24 hours)
  • The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) can offer on-the-spot advice and information about the NHS. You can contact them on freephone 0800 032 02 02 or email
  • Information produced by:  Dr J Scott, Consultant Radiologist and P Hughes Senior Radiographer


Diagnostic Imaging DatasetShow [+]Hide [-]

  • Information from your diagnostic test will contribute to the Diagnostic Imaging Dataset. 
  • The Diagnostic Imaging Dataset (DID) is a database that holds information on the imaging tests and scans carried out on NHS patients. This will allow the Health and Social Care Information Centre to see how different tests are used across the country.
  • Nothing will ever be reported that identifies you.  All information is stored securely. It is only made available to appropriate staff, and is kept strictly confidential. However, if you do not want your information to be stored in the DID, please tell the people who are treating you. They will make sure your information is not copied into the DID.
  • You may, at a later date, still decide to opt out.  Please contact the Health and Social Care Information Centre directly, their contact details are:
  • Telephone: 0845 300 6016 
  • Email: 
  • Website:
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