Here at Wiltshire Farm Foods we’d like to put your mind at ease if you have recently been referred for a Barium swallow test.


In this guide we will be covering everything you need to know about the Barium swallow test, such as why you may need it and what happens during the appointment. If a Doctor or Speech and Language Therapist has referred you for a Barium swallow test, it is because they would like to assess your swallow or examine the lining of your throat and oesophagus (gullet)*.

What is a Barium swallow test?

The Barium swallow test uses X-ray’s to capture images or videos of a liquid’s journey from the mouth to the stomach. It is most frequently used to diagnose dysphagia, commonly known as swallowing difficulty, and can identify where in the swallowing process the problem occurs. The barium swallow test should not be confused with the Barium meal test or the Barium follow-through, which examines your stomach or short bowel, respectively.

The barium swallow test can also be used to diagnose the following:

• Hiatus hernias

• Oesophageal bleeds

• Tumours

• Ulcers

• Polyps

• Narrowing of the oesophagus

How should I prepare for the test?

Ideally, your stomach should be empty during the test to capture the best X-ray imaging, so you may be asked not to eat or drink anything for up to 6 hours prior to your appointment. In addition to this, you may be asked to stop taking any stomach medication such as antacids for up to 3 days before the appointment, as they can coat the lining of the stomach. You may also be advised to avoid wearing any metal as it can interfere with the imaging.

You should also inform the hospital immediately if any of the below situations is applicable to you:

• You have diabetes

• You are required to take medication around the time of your appointment

• You are pregnant (this procedure should only be undergone if you are not pregnant)

• You are of childbearing age (as you could be unknowingly be pregnant)

What should I expect during my appointment?

The procedure will likely take place in the radiology department and upon arrival you may be asked to change into a hospital gown and to remove any jewellery. Usually, you will be positioned on an X-ray table and asked to reposition your body as necessary to be optimally X-rayed.

The test will involve drinking a milkshake-like liquid with a chalky taste. This liquid contains Barium, which is highly visible via X-ray imaging. When you drink the liquid, there will be either a single X-ray, a series of X-rays or a videofluroscopy examination. Your Healthcare Professional will examine the Barium as it travels through your throat and down your oesophagus. The procedure should take around 20 minutes. Normally the radiation exposure is minimal, equalling natural background radiation you would usually receive over roughly 3 months.

What happens when the test has finished?

Once you have been assessed, you can usually return home immediately and resume eating and drinking normally if you have been told it is safe to do so. Your Healthcare Professional should have analysed your results within a few days and will discuss this with you in a follow up appointment, or possibly over the phone.

Barium can sometimes cause off-coloured stools and constipation. This is normal and can be prevented by drinking lots of water and eating high fibre foods such as beans, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. Rarely, patients may aspirate small amounts of the Barium drink into their lungs. This does not often cause any issues but in a small number of cases may require a chest physiotherapy session.

What if I have been diagnosed with dysphagia?

If you have been diagnosed with dysphagia, a Speech and Language Therapist may recommend a texture modified diet for you. If this is the case, you may benefit from our award-winning range of texture modified ready meals, specially dedicated to ensuring delicious and safe meals are available without the hassle of blending at home – our Softer Foods Range. At Wiltshire Farm Foods we believe everyone should have access to delicious, wholesome food, therefore we cater for the full range of texture modified requirements; Level 6 (Soft & Bite-Sized meals), Level 5 (Minced meals) and Level 4 (puréed meals).

All our meals are delivered to your freezer by one of our friendly local drivers, meaning that our great food is there when you need it, and on ice when you don’t. Why not take a look at the Specialist Nutrition section of our brochure, which features all our texture modified meals in more detail. Simply request a free brochure from the link below.

*Wiltshire Farm Foods are providing general information regarding the Barium swallow test and are not recommending any direct healthcare practice. The information in this article should not take priority over the advice of any registered Healthcare Professional, and their advice should always followed regarding any health concerns or procedures. 

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