Small Bowel Series

ExitCare Image A small bowel series is a medical test with X-rays that checks for problems in the small bowel. The small bowel is also called the small intestine. It connects the stomach to the large intestine (colon). A small bowel series can help your caregiver see blockages and abnormal growths. It can also help to solve digestion problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea. Another name for a small bowel series is small bowel follow through.


  • Allergies to food or medicine.

  • History of diabetes.

  • Medicines taken, including vitamins, herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medicines, and creams.

  • Previous problems with barium.

  • Any constipation problems.

  • Breastfeeding, if this applies.

  • Possibility of pregnancy, if this applies.


Problems do not occur often with this procedure, but they are possible. Possible problems include:

  • An allergic reaction to barium (rare).

  • Problems from the very small amount of radiation exposure.

  • Worsening of a blockage in your small bowel.

  • Cramps or constipation.


  • Several days before the exam, you may need to change what you eat. Follow your caregiver's directions.

  • The night before the exam, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.

  • Ask your caregiver if it is okay to take any needed medicines with a sip of water.

  • If you have diabetes and need to take insulin, ask for instructions on how to do this before the exam.


A small bowel series is done while you are awake. You will not need pain medicine. The exam usually takes 2 to 4 hours. The length of the exam depends on how long it takes for the barium to move through your system. It also depends on what is found during the exam.

  • You will be given an intravenous (IV) tube. A needle will be put in your arm or hand. Medicine will flow directly into your body through the IV tube. The medicine will relax the small bowel. This slows down bowel movements and helps make better X-ray pictures.

  • A regular X-ray will be taken of your abdomen. This is called a scout film or before barium film. This is done to make sure you are ready for the exam.

  • You will drink about 2 cups of barium. This is like a milkshake that tastes like chalk. It might make you feel bloated. Barium helps the inside of the small bowel to show up clearly on the screen. You may need to drink a bit more barium later in the exam.

  • A type of X-ray called fluoroscopy will be used. X-ray pictures are taken every 20 to 30 minutes. You may need to stand up or lie on a table. The table may move or tilt. You may need to turn from side to side. This is done to get pictures from different angles. Your caregiver might also press on your abdomen.

  • The exam is done when all the needed pictures have been taken.


  • You may go back to your normal diet and activities right away.

  • Ask when your test results will be ready. Follow up with your caregiver to discuss your test results.