Upper Gastrointestinal Series

ExitCare ImageAn upper gastrointestinal (GI) series is a medical test with X-rays that helps diagnose problems of the upper GI tract. The upper GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine. This exam is used to look for heartburn, reflux, sores (ulcers), abnormal growths, and other problems.


  • Allergies to food or medicine.

  • 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).

  • Nausea after drinking the barium.

  • Problems from the very small amount of radiation exposure.

  • 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.


An upper GI series is done while you are awake. You will not need pain medicine. The exam usually takes about 1 hour. 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 drink barium. This is like a milkshake that tastes like chalk. It might make you feel bloated. Barium helps the inside of the upper GI tract to show up clearly on the screen.

  • You may also swallow "fizzies." This is a substance that causes air to build up in your stomach.

  • A type of X-ray called fluoroscopy will be used. 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.

  • 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.