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Upper Gastrointestinal Series

What is it?

Also called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series or simply an upper GI, this is an X-ray exam of the esophagus, stomach, and upper portion of the small intestine. Because these organs don’t usually show up on X-rays, a solution with barium must be consumed before the test. The barium appears bright white on X-ray images, showing the outline of the organs.

A less extensive test, called a barium swallow, only provides images of the voice box and esophagus. During either test, a person may be asked to swallow baking-soda crystals to create gas and further clarify the images. This procedure has the modified name of air-contrast or double-contrast upper GI.

Who needs it?

An upper GI is done to observe digestive function or to detect problems such as ulcers, tumors, or inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine. A doctor may recommend an upper GI if a person has trouble swallowing or has chest and abdominal pain, reflux (a backward flow of partially digested food and digestive juices), unexplained vomiting, severe indigestion, or blood in the stool.