Upper GI exam


An upper GI examination is a fluoroscopic examination (a type of x ray imaging) of the upper gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine (duodenum).


An upper GI series is frequently requested when a patient experiences unexplained symptoms of abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), regurgitation, diarrhea, or unexplained weight loss. It is used to help diagnose disorders and diseases of, or related to, the upper gastrointestinal tract. Some of these conditions are: hiatal hernia, diverticula, tumors, obstruction, gastroesophageal reflux disease, pulmonary aspiration, and inflammation (e.g., ulcers, enteritis, and Crohn's disease).

Glucagon, a medication sometimes given prior to an upper GI procedure, may cause nausea and dizziness. It is used to relax the natural movements of the stomach, which will enhance the overall study.


An upper GI series takes place in a hospital or clinic setting, and is performed by an x ray technologist and a radiologist. Before the test begins, the patient is sometimes given a glucagon injection, a medication that slows stomach and bowel activity, to provide the radiologist with a clear picture of the gastrointestinal tract. In order to further improve the upper GI picture clarity, the patient may be given a cup of fizzing crystals to swallow, which distends the esophagus and stomach by producing gas.

Once these preparatory steps are complete, the patient stands against an upright x ray table, and a fluoroscopic screen is placed in front of him or her. The patient will be asked to drink from a cup of flavored barium sulfate, a thick and chalky-tasting liquid, while the radiologist views the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum on the fluoroscopic screen. The patient will be asked to change positions frequently to coat the entire surface of the gastrointestinal tract with barium, move overlapping loops of bowel to isolate each segment, and provide multiple views of each segment. The technician or radiologist may press on the patient's abdomen to spread the barium throughout the folds within the lining of the stomach. The x ray table will also be moved several times throughout the procedure. The radiologist will ask the patient to hold his or her breath periodically while exposures are taken. After the radiologist completes his or her portion of the exam, the technologist takes three to six additional films of the GI tract. The entire procedure takes approximately 15–30 minutes.

In addition to the standard upper GI series, a physician may request a detailed small bowel follow-through (SBFT), which is a timed series of films. After the preliminary upper GI series is complete, the patient will drink additional barium sulfate, and will be escorted to a waiting area while the barium moves through the small intestines. X rays are initially taken at 15-minute intervals until the barium reaches the colon (the only way to be sure the terminal ileum is fully seen is to see the colon or ileocecal valve). The interval may be increased to 30 minutes, or even one hour if the barium passes slowly. Then the radiologist will obtain additional views of the terminal ileum (the most distal segment of the small bowel, just before the colon). This procedure can take from one to four hours.

Esophageal radiography, also called a barium esophagram or a barium swallow, is a study of the esophagus only, and is usually performed as part of the upper GI series (sometimes only a barium swallow is done). It is commonly used to diagnose the cause of difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), and to detect a hiatal hernia. The patient drinks a barium sulfate liquid, and sometimes eats barium-coated food while the radiologist examines the swallowing mechanism on a fluoroscopic screen. The test takes approximately 30 minutes.


Patients must not eat, drink, or smoke for eight hours prior to undergoing an upper GI examination. Longer dietary restrictions may be required, depending on the type and diagnostic purpose of the test. Patients undergoing a small bowel follow-through exam may be asked to take laxatives the day before to the test. Patients are required to wear a hospital gown, or similar attire, and to remove all jewelry, to provide the camera with an unobstructed view of the abdomen.


No special aftercare treatment or regimen is required for an upper GI series. The patient may eat and drink as soon as the test is completed. The barium sulfate may make the patient's stool white for several days, and can cause constipation; therefore patients are encouraged to drink plenty of water to eliminate it from their system.


Because the upper GI series is an x ray procedure, it does involve minor exposure to ionizing radiation. Unless the patient is pregnant, or multiple radiological or fluoroscopic studies are required, the small dose of radiation incurred during a single procedure poses little risk. However, multiple studies requiring fluoroscopic exposure that are conducted in a short time period have been known, on very rare occasions, to cause skin death (necrosis) in some individuals. This risk can be minimized by careful monitoring and documentation of cumulative radiation doses.

Normal results

A normal upper GI series shows a healthy, normally functioning, and unobstructed digestive tract. Hiatal hernia, obstructions, inflammation (including ulcers or polyps of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine), or irregularities in the swallowing mechanism are just a few of the possible abnormalities that may appear on an upper GI series. Additionally, abnormal peristalsis, or digestive movements of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine can often be visualized on the fluoroscopic part of the exam, and in the interpretation of the SBFT.



Ross, Linda, ed. Gastrointestinal Diseases and Disorders Sourcebook, Vol. 16. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1996.


Newman, J. "Radiographic and Endoscopic Evaluation of the Upper GI Tract." Radiology Technology 69 (January/February 1998): 213-26.

Debra Novograd, B.S., R.T.(R)(M) Lee A. Shratter, M.D.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 5, 2010 @ 11:11 am
i have a upper gi next year,,, i will not make it that long ,,,i am in pain daily... what are your comments
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 22, 2010 @ 12:00 am
I have had many upper GI's over the years and the only unpleasant experience I've had is a bit of nausea while drinking the barium. Of course, when you're already in pain from a disorder it's certainly worse when they are pushing on your gut trying to the get stuff through you. If it becomes unbearable they can just be more patient and let the stuff flow on it's own. However, since doctors get paid by the number of procedures they complete, patience is usually not in their vocabulary. Good luck!
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 27, 2010 @ 4:04 am
This article has provided me with some information i need for my seminar presentation
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 24, 2011 @ 6:06 am
Nice & interesting. Can this procedure done as daycare?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Feb 8, 2011 @ 8:08 am
Tyler, the reason the Doctor (Radiologist) is normally "pushing on your gut" is to better visualize the internal structures on the images, rather than trying to push the contrast through you. The abdomen is very thick with stomach and small & large intestines all intertwined going different directions so it is helpful to palpate and manuver the structures inside. If the pain is unbearable, they can still get images without, but the images would not be as good. The better the images, the better one's disorder can be diagnosed correctly and taken care of, so if one can tolerate the pressure it is best to do it. Often, they have a paddle that will inflate with air that can be placed under the patient to push up from underneath for the same purpose of repositioning the internal structures.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 15, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
@ pap... Im not a doctor but taking ppi will reduce the acid.. Takes a week or two though... Try prilosec and if you need something stronger.. Proronix . But change your diet.. It will speed everything up.. Low carbs, high fiber, fish and chicken.. Avocado,organic baby spinach.. Keep a bottle of maalox around.. Dont take to much even though it helps and get your gall bladder checked as well.. Hope this helps
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 4, 2012 @ 9:09 am
My daughter has been complaining about stomach nausea, pain. She is 13 years old. She has not had her menstruation yet. Doctors but her on Zantac for acid reflux. Nothing works she always doesn't feel good. I don't know what to do
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 8, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
I am having both upper and lower GI tests done at the same time. How is this done? I will be somewhat sedated. How will I drink the barium for the upper GI test?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 17, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
Is it common to get a UTI or BLadder infection following upper/lower G

Can Pelvic Floor Prolapse be seen in the GI series?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 27, 2012 @ 8:08 am
I myself am also asking like Sher, if you can get a UTI or Bladder Infection following a Upper GI with the Barium Swollow? I had one done on Wednsday and the following day I am having alot of bladder pain and pressure.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Feb 29, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
Problem: constant bloating and abdominal pain, regardless of food choices. Pain starts 5 min within eating pretty much anything, lasting 8-10 hours, on the left hand side, underneath rib cage.
Had both upper GI and small intestine follow through and was told to drink milk of magnesium in order not to get constipated. Highly recommend drinking plain prune juice from any supermarket (Sunsweet) and some plain yogurt and/or Kefir. It will clean your intestines without any chemicals. Not heard of increased UTI nor bladder infection, but in case it happens please drink plain UVA Ursi tea, found in health food stores or online. Research about marshmallow tea as well for stomach problems.
Did liver cleanse ( RenewLife brand) and started taking probiotics by the same company and feel less pain.
Worth trying. Good luck!
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 3, 2013 @ 2:14 pm
My wife had an upper G.I. done yesterday, and today she is vomiting up blood. Is this normal?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 25, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
I am having an upper and lower gi done at the same time. Fully sedated. Will i need to stay overnight?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Feb 2, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
My 94 year old dad needs to have an Upper G.I. done, his mobility level is low, will this be a difficult procedure for him as an outpatient?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 29, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
NO, this is NOT normal!!! Go to ER! After any medical procedure it is not normal to vomit blood or bleed overall, unless specified at the time of the procedure by a medical staff personnel.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 8, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
I am having a upper GI my first time i am a little nervous but i guess that normal my lower part of my stomach burn a little but not bad .
peg richards
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 30, 2014 @ 10:22 pm
An 85 year old relative is having an upper and lower GI because her doctor says her blood is "low" and the cause may be found by doing the test. She is nervous about this and is very upset. She has high blood pressure. The upcoming test seems like something she does not want. Should she have it if she does not want to?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 14, 2015 @ 1:01 am
Had esophagram barium swallow this morning. This evening into tonight I am having moderate abdominal pains. Is this normal? I am on opiate pain mm and do not have bowel movements without a laxative. Should I take off e now or wait a day or two first?
LaSonya Manning
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 19, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
I had an upper gi series done today and noticed the barium I swallow could be seen white in my stomach and it didn't go pass my stomach. What could this mean I see my doctor Wednesday for the results but I will feel better if I had an ideal of what it means before then. Thanks
Genie Sneedhaulsee
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 22, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
i have had several upper GIs with no problems presenting. Don't have a problem with the Barium, although I can understand why some do. Radiologist and staff have consistently explained procedure as we go through it.
Afterward, I go to work with no residual issues.
Have one coming up soon and am completely at ease with all areas of procedure.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 3, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
My dad is 89 years old, has a hiatal hernia was having dry heaves. The gastro doctor recommend a
endoscopy. The night prior and the morning of the procedure he started vomiting. When he put
the endo tube in my dad aspirated and they couldn't finish the procedure. He got aspirated pneumonia
and has been in the hospital now for 3 weeks. Do you think a GI would have been a better way to
Go rather than endoscopy?
Paige Wilson
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 23, 2015 @ 11:11 am
I am getting both an upper and lower GI done tomorrow afternoon, and i was wondering how long it would take to get it all done because i have to work tonight and tomorrow night 11pm-7am and i want to get in sleep at some point...
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 26, 2015 @ 10:10 am
I had an endoscopy do I still need an uper gi series are. They the same
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 24, 2016 @ 11:23 pm
the hospital I use dose not do this procedure this way they use a scope and go down the throaght and so he can see everything in the esaughigus and stomach so mabe in some areas they do this procedure differently
Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 22, 2016 @ 7:19 pm
My 10 year old daughter went thru a mre where she had to drink the barrium juice. Well the barrium juice never went down into her lower intestines. We waited three hours and the kept scanning her to see if it went down and it never did. Anyone know why it wouldn't go down. I'm very worried
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 26, 2016 @ 10:22 pm
I had upper GI series yesterday. Had excruciating pain and had a tiny amount of pencil size fecal matter after doing 2 fleet enemas.
Day 2 swollen and still moderate pain all day passing minimum amount of gas. A lot of bloating and pressure in stomache and did 2 fleet enemas when I got home. Filled the toilet with blood still no bowel movement. I have suffered constipation for years and recently has gotten worse. My worry is the bright red blood as I have never bleed before.
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 5, 2016 @ 8:20 pm
Denise, is it nessicary for you to keep doing fleet enemas after the procedure??
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 3, 2016 @ 7:19 pm
I had a normal upper gi i know i had an ulcer in March they said my upper gi was normal could i still have a ulcer i have also had gastric bypass
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 4, 2016 @ 9:09 am
I have been sick in stomach for almost two years. Had Pulmonary Embolism, with filter put in, severely sick for 6 months with diarrhea. Went to gastro doctor, found out have gerd and esophagitis. Have never had anything or known of problem with stomach. Always been a good eater .Put on Prilosec and diarrhea got somewhat better, but cant get rid of stomach upset. Had Endoscopy, Small Bowel series, and Colonoscopy. Still sick. Mostly get sick after eating. I lost 60 lbs the first six months on the blood thinners but have leveled off. For the last year and a half just sick in stomach all the time. Have gas, bloating, rumbling, stomach seems to flop and I have this pain every now and then on left side under breast(which no one seems to care about). I am feeling trapped as I never go anywhere anymore for fear of getting sick. Should I have GI test done too?

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: