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Diagnostics & Testing

Gastrointestinal Examinations

What are gastrointestinal examinations?

X-ray examinations of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines and rectum, enable your physician to detect abnormalities in these organs.

Gastrointestinal examinations are usually called either "upper GI" or "lower GI," depending on the organs that are to be studied:

  • The upper GI test examines the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine. For this test, the patient swallows a contrast solution that contains barium.
  • The lower GI test examines the large intestine and the rectum. For this test, barium is administered rectally by enema.

Before the exam

  • Please be aware that correct preparation is very important for the test to be performed properly. Your test may need to be rescheduled for an alternate date if the correct preparation is not completed.

On the day of the exam


Please do not bring valuables such as jewelry or credit cards.
  • All examinations are performed and interpreted by registered and licensed technologists and board-certified radiologists.
  • You will be asked to change into a hospital gown.

Types of exams


Air contrast enema

X-ray examination of the large intestine (colon). Barium and air are introduced gradually into the colon by a rectal tube. Approximate time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Barium enema

X-ray examination of the large intestine (colon). Barium is introduced gradually into the colon by a rectal tube. Approximate time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Barium swallow (Esophagography)

X-ray examination of the esophagus as you swallow a barium solution. Approximate time: 1 hour.

Small bowel series

X-ray examination of the small intestine (small bowel). You drink a barium solution and x-ray films are taken at intervals to follow the flow of barium through the small intestine. Approximate time: 2 to 4 hours.

Upper GI series

X-ray examination of the stomach as you swallow a barium solution. Approximate time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

After the exam

Generally you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately. However, you are encouraged to increase your fluid intake.

The results of your gastrointestinal exam should be available to your physician within 24 hours after the test, Monday through Friday.

Your physician will discuss the test results with you.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/1/2007...#4986