Upper GI Series

(GI = gastrointestinal = stomach and bowel)

Upper GI Series Preparation - click for PDFUpper GI Image

For patient safety, patients exceeding the weight limit of 325 lbs. will not be done at London X-Ray Associates.


The upper GI series is an x-ray examination of the lower esophagus, stomach and first part of the small bowel. Passing small, highly controlled amounts of radiation through the body and capturing the resulting shadows on film creates x-ray images. Most people are familiar with plain x-rays, which produce a still picture of the body. A similar imaging method, fluoroscopy, uses x-rays to capture a moving image of an organ. Both still x-ray images and fluoroscopy are used during an upper GI series. The inside of the stomach is coated with a liquid (barium) which blocks x-rays. The shadows cast by the barium show the lining of the stomach. This procedure takes 5 - 10 minutes.

Common Reasons for an Upper GI Series

Some of the more common reasons why your doctor would order an Upper GI Series include:

  • Heartburn
  • Upset stomach or pain in the upper abdomen
  • Anemia (low blood)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • An early sensation of fullness after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Burping and bloating

Who should not have an Upper GI Series?

The upper GI series, and indeed all x-ray examinations, should not be performed in pregnant women except when the information provided by the test is vital to treatment of the patient and there are no suitable alternatives. The upper GI series should not be done if there has been surgery on the stomach or bowel within the last two weeks. The upper GI series is usually not indicated for a sudden attack of bleeding or abdominal pain. A medication sometimes given during the procedure - hyoscine (Buscopan)- is not advised in those with glaucoma or serious angina/heart disease. The upper GI series is very difficult, if not impossible, in immobile patients. Anyone with a Strawberry allergy should have this test done at a hospital.

How do I prepare for the test?

The presence of food in the stomach may mask or be confused with abnormalities. Preparation for the Upper GI Series is aimed at clearing the stomach of food. Preparation is as follows:

  • Nothing to eat or drink after midnight prior to the examination (small amounts of water may be taken with medication)
  • No breakfast on the morning of the examination. Patients with afternoon appointments may have 1 slice of dry toast and one cup of clear liquid not later than 8:00 a.m. on the morning of the examination.

Who performs the examination?

The examination is performed by an x-ray technologist and a radiologist (a doctor who specializes in reading x-rays and other images and doing procedures requiring imaging.

What happens during the examination?

After registering with the receptionist, you will be asked to change into a gown. You will have to remove all of your clothing except your underwear, shoes and socks. You will be taken to an x-ray room. The first x-ray pictures are taken standing up. The technologist will ask you to drink a fizzy liquid akin to Bromoseltzer or Eno. This fills the stomach with gas, allowing the lining to be better seen. Try not to burp until the test is over. Then you will be asked to drink a thick, chalky liquid - barium. Drink all of the liquid as fast as you can. While you are drinking, several x-rays are taken - try to hold as still as possible, even after the barium is gone. You will then be provided with a pillow and the x-ray machine will be gradually tilted until you are lying down. The technologist may either shake you by the hips or have you log roll in order to coat the walls of the stomach. During the test, the technologist may inject medication into a vein in your arm using a small needle. This medication, hyoscine butylbromide (Buscopan), relaxes the muscles in the walls of the stomach and bowel, often improving the quality of the x-ray pictures. This medication may produce mild blurred vision, especially for objects up close. This returns to normal within 5-15 minutes. While laying down, you may have to drink additional barium, this time thinner in consistency. During the examination, the technologist will take x-ray pictures in a variety of different positions. You will be asked to hold your breath during most of the pictures.

What can I expect after the examination?

The fizzy liquid may produce burping after the examination. The barium will not irritate your stomach or bowels but you may have a heavy sensation. The barium can produce constipation. You can avoid this by drinking extra fluids after the procedure. Otherwise, you may resume a normal diet and normal activity. Your stools may contain white areas when the barium is passed.

What are the risks of the procedure?

All x-rays involve receiving a controlled amount of radiation. The risk associated with the radiation received during a single x-ray examination is very small. While the exact likelihood is controversial, there is a very small chance of the radiation contributing to the development of a malignancy many years in the future. The risks involved in everyday activities such as driving a car are far higher. Generally, the risk of not doing the x-ray far outweighs the risk of the small amount of radiation involved.

There is a very small risk of aspirating the barium (having it go down the wrong way). Occasionally residual barium may harden in the colon (large bowel) after the procedure, producing constipation. As mentioned above, this can be avoided by drinking extra fluid after the procedure.

Allergy to barium or the fizzy liquid is extremely rare. Rarely, hyoscine butylbromide can help diagnose glaucoma (a disease where there is increased pressure inside the eye) follow up with an ophthalmologist is required. Heart conditions may also be exacerbated by this medication.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

The results are interpreted by one of our radiologists and the results are sent to the doctor who ordered the upper GI series by courier or fax.

Arrangements to discuss the results of the Upper GI series can be made with the doctor who ordered it.

Are childcare (baby sitting) services available while I have my exam?

No childcare services are available. Please prearrange the following:
Adult supervision in the waiting room must be provided at all times for children while you, the caregiver, are having your exam completed. London X-Ray Associates staff will not be able to provide any childcare needs. We ask that all children be supervised by an adult, other than the patient, while at London X-Ray Associates.
Thank you.