What types of tests are used to examine the gastrointestinal tract?

Fluoroscopy

Fluoroscopy is a type of X-ray that allows part of the body to be studied in motion and recorded on a video monitor. This type of X-ray is used to examine the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon) and rectum – so that your physician can detect abnormalities in the size, shape, position or functioning of these organs.

Fluoroscopic gastrointestinal examinations may be performed in a physician's office, a commercial X-ray facility or a hospital.

These tests are usually called either "upper GI" or "lower GI" tests, depending on the organs that are to be studied.

Upper GI test

The upper GI test is used to examine the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine. For this test, the patient drinks a contrast solution that contains barium. The barium solution is sweetened and flavored, but does taste chalky. There will be both thick and thin mixtures of the barium solution you'll be asked to drink (usually totaling 12 to 14 ounces). The doctor or assistant will tell you when to take sips of the solution.

As the barium passes through the digestive tract, it provides an outline of the swallowing process as well as the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine. The fluoroscope is held over the part of the body being examined and transmits continuous images to the video monitor.

This test is used to diagnose hiatal hernias, ulcers, tumors, diverticulitis, esophageal varices, obstruction, narrowing, or enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine lining). It may also be used to determine the causes of swallowing problems, reflux, abdominal pain, diarrhea, unexplained vomiting or weight loss or bleeding.

Types of Upper GI Tests

Barium swallow (esophagography): X-ray examination of the esophagus. Approximate time: 1 hour.

Upper GI series: X-ray examination of the stomach. Approximate time: 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Small bowel series: X-ray examination of the small intestine (small bowel). Approximate time: 2 to 4 hours.

Lower GI test

The lower GI test is used to examine the large intestine and the rectum. For this test, barium is introduced gradually into the colon through a tube inserted into the rectum. As the barium passes through the lower intestine, it provides an outline of the intestinal wall. The fluoroscope is held over the part of the body being examined and transmits continuous images to the video monitor. This test is used to detect polyps, tumors, diverticulitis, gastroenteritis, irritable colon, ulcerative colitis or other causes of abdominal pain, or blood, mucus or pus in the stool.

Types of Lower GI Tests

Air contrast barium enema (also called double contrast barium 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.