Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Test

Having an Upper Gastrointestinal Test

Your child has been scheduled for an upper gastrointestinal test. Please arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled exam. This will allow time for you to register your child for the exam.

Please bring:

  • Your child's insurance card
  • A list of any medicines (prescription and over the counter) that your child is currently taking
  • Your child's immunization record
  • Your child's Express ID Card, if you have one

What is an Upper Gastrointestinal Test?

An upper gastrointestinal test or Upper GI is a series of X-ray pictures taken while your child's stomach is filled with barium (like a milkshake with a chalky taste). Barium is a thick, white liquid that makes the stomach show up on the X-ray picture.

Getting Ready for the Test

We want your child's stomach empty before the test begins. For several hours before the test, your child will not be able to eat or drink. Please follow the instructions listed under Upper GI Series Prep. It is very important that the instructions are followed closely. After the test is over, your child will be able to eat and drink.

When you and your child arrive at the Radiology Department, one of the radiographers (the person who will be taking your child's X-ray pictures) will explain to you and your child how the exam will be done. You will then be taken into a special room where you will see a large X-ray camera over a special table and a TV set. Your child may be asked to change into a gown. This is to keep buttons and zippers from showing up on your child's X-ray picture.

Upper GI Series Prep

Small Bowel Series (pharynx, esophagus, stomach and small bowel)

0 - 2 years old:

  • No solid foods after midnight (may have liquids, including formula)
  • Nothing by mouth for three (3) hours before exam

2 - 18 years old:

  • No foods after midnight
  • Nothing by mouth for four (4) hours before exam
  • No chewing gum on the day of exam

Esophagus, barium swallow (pharynx, esophagus)
All ages: Nothing by mouth for two (2) hours prior to the exam

During the Test

The radiographer will help your child lie on the table and will ask your child to be very still for the pictures. The radiographer will move the camera so that it is over your child's body. The camera will not hurt or touch your child. The radiographer will then go to another part of the room to take your child's picture. You will hear a buzz when the picture is taken.

Some questions will be asked about allergies (if any). This is important before any medicines or X-ray dyes are given to your child.

Your child will be required to drink some barium during the test. It is very important that your child drink the barium even if your child does not like the way it tastes or smells. It is important for your child to drink all that is given. Your child will not drink the barium until the radiologist (an X-ray doctor) comes into the room.
After a short wait, the lights will be turned down low and the TV set will be turned on. The radiologist will have your child drink the barium to begin the test. Your child may be asked to turn from one side to another. The radiologist may also press on your child's stomach with a big glove to move the barium around. When the doctor wants to take a picture, your child will be asked to hold his/her breath and lie very still. The camera will make a clicking noise when the picture is taken.

If your child feels uncomfortable from swallowing the barium, it may help to lie still and take deep breaths. The radiographer will help your child through this.

The entire test will take 30 – 40 minutes.

After the Test

There's a short wait while the X-rays are reviewed; it may be necessary to take more pictures. When the test has been completed, you will be released. The radiologist will then tell your child's doctor the results of the test.

Note: For the next few days your child's stools (bowel movements) may be a different color until the barium passes all the way through. It is very important that your child drink plenty of liquids (water, juices) throughout the next few days so that your child does not get constipated. 

Commonly Asked Questions About an Upper GI

How long will the exam take?
The exam will generally take 30 to 45 minutes. In some cases, it may take longer.

When will I know the results of the exam?
The radiologist will let your doctor know the results of your child's exam. Your doctor will then discuss the results of the exam with you.

How soon after the exam can I feed my child/infant?

  • Child: Your child may eat and drink after the test is over.
  • Infant: Your infant will probably have a full stomach after the exam. It is suggested that you do not feed your baby for at least an hour after the exam.

If you have any questions about the test, please ask your radiographer or doctor.