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Barium Swallow Introduction

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A barium swallow is a test that may be used to determine the cause of painful swallowing, difficulty with swallowing, abdominal pain, bloodstained vomit, or unexplained weight loss.

Barium sulfate is a metallic compound that shows up on X-rays and is used to help see abnormalities in the esophagus and stomach. When taking the test, you drink a preparation containing this solution. The X-rays track its path through your digestive system.

These problems can be detected with a barium swallow:

Narrowing or irritation of the esophagus (for example, Schatski's ring)
Disorders of swallowing (dysphagia - difficulty swallowing), spasms of the esophagus or pharynx
Hiatal hernia (an internal defect that causes the stomach to slide partially into the chest)
Abnormally enlarged veins in the esophagus (varices) that cause bleeding
Polyps (growths that are usually not cancerous, but develop into cancer)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)