What is an upper gastrointestinal exam?
An upper gastrointestinal exam (also called “upper GI”) is a radiology procedure that uses real-time X-ray fluoroscopy to produce images over time of your child’s esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. By using fluoroscopic technique, your radiologist can see how these organs move and function together while looking for any abnormalities.
This exam requires that your child drink barium contrast liquid as a special X-ray camera captures the images. The barium will coat your child’s gastrointestinal tract, allowing the radiologist to see details that help in diagnosis. Barium is a safe and effective contrast agent for infants and children. More basic information on fluoroscopy is available in the About Fluoroscopy section.
An upper GI test can be used to help radiologists diagnose problems of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, such as:
- Excessive vomiting
- Child has failure to thrive
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal pain
- Upper GI is a painless, safe, and noninvasive way to evaluate problems with the upper GI tract.
- Having an upper GI can mean that your child avoids exploratory surgery.
- Barium is well tolerated. Adverse or allergic reactions are rare.
- The amount of radiation used in an upper GI is unlikely to increase your child’s risk of cancer, and no radiation in remains the body after the exam.
- Some patients may be allergic to flavored barium used during some exams. If your child has a history of allergy to chocolate, berries, or citrus fruits, be sure to tell your technologist before the test.
- Fluoroscopy uses a low dose of radiation because it uses X-ray technology, but the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk. Please refer to the About Fluoroscopy section for more information on the risk of radiation used in this exam. Be assured that ARA Children’s Imaging Center has protocols designed keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable while getting an effective diagnostic image.
- If you are pregnant, you will not be able to be with your child while X-rays are taken because of risk to the developing fetus. Please bring a friend or family member to stay with the child.
- An upper GI is typically done in an ARA imaging center and takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
- The technologist will explain the exam to you and your child.
- Your child will be asked to change into a gown and remove all jewelry and metal objects.
- Your child will be placed on an exam table that tilts to facilitate the movement of contrast liquid in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Your child will be given the barium liquid to drink through a straw while lying on the exam table under the X-ray camera (fluoroscope). The barium may taste chalky but it is flavored to improve the taste.
- As your child drinks the barium, the fluoroscope will capture real-time moving images for the radiologist or technologist to view.
- To ensure the barium coats all the areas of the upper GI tract, the technologist or radiologist may press on your child’s stomach, which may cause discomfort. The exam table may also be tilted to help move barium to different parts of your child’s upper GI tract.
- Your child can resume normal activities immediately after the exam. For 24 to 48 hours after the exam, your child’s stools may look gray or white due to the barium. Barium may also cause temporary constipation, which can be treated by a mild, over-the-counter laxative. Be sure your child drinks plenty of fluids after the exam.
- You will be able to stay with your child during the exam unless you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, you will not be able to be with your child while X-rays are taken because of risk to the developing fetus. Please a bring friend or family member to stay with the child.
- Your child should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Please leave all jewelry, piercings, and any other metal objects at home.
- Bring your child’s favorite book or small toy to occupy them during the exam.
- The upper GI requires that your child not eat or drink for a period before the exam. Your ARA scheduler will give you specific instructions. Ask your doctor for directions about your child’s daily medications.
- Be sure to tell your technologist about any illness or allergies your child may have, especially if they have allergies to iodine.
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to interpret radiological examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to the health care provider who referred you to ARA. Your health care provider will then share the results with you. Your report will also be available on the patient portal within 15 days.