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Swallowing Study

Test Overview

A swallowing study is a test that shows what your throat and esophagus do while you swallow. The test uses X-rays in real time (fluoroscopy) and records what happens when you swallow. While you swallow, the doctor and speech pathologist watch a video screen.

For a swallowing study, you will swallow liquid mixed with a substance called barium. Or you might swallow solid foods coated with barium.

The barium shows the movements of your throat and esophagus on the X-ray while you swallow.

Why It Is Done

The test helps your doctor see why you're having trouble swallowing. After treatment, it can also show your doctor if the treatment worked.

How To Prepare

Your doctor may tell you not to eat anything after midnight the night before the test.

How It Is Done

Before the test

  • Remove any jewelry that might get in the way of the X-ray picture.
  • You may need to take off all or most of your clothes around the area being X-rayed.
  • You may be given a gown to wear during the test.
  • A lead shield will be placed over your pelvic area to protect it from radiation.

During the test

  • You will stand or sit in front of the X-ray machine while the test is done.
  • The doctor and a speech pathologist will guide you through a series of swallowing steps.
  • Depending on the type of study, you will swallow liquid mixed with barium or solid foods coated with barium.
  • While you swallow, the doctor and speech pathologist will watch the video screen. They may ask you to take different positions to see how they affect your swallowing. The X-rays are recorded so they can be looked at later.

How long the test takes

The test will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

How It Feels

You won't feel any pain from the X-ray. The barium liquid is thick and chalky, and some people find it hard to swallow. A sweet flavor, like chocolate or strawberry, is used to make it easier to drink.

Risks

The barium in the food isn't harmful.

Some people gag when they drink the barium fluid. In rare cases, a person may choke and inhale (aspirate) some of the liquid into the lungs.

There is a small chance that the barium will block the intestine or leak into the belly through a perforated ulcer.

If your doctor thinks you may be at risk for complications, he or she may use a special type of contrast material (Gastrografin) instead of barium.

There is always a small chance of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, even the low level of radiation used for this test.

Results

Normal

The throat and esophagus look normal while you swallow. They do not have swelling, an injury, narrowing, or foreign objects.

Abnormal

The throat and esophagus don't look normal while you swallow. The test shows swelling, an injury, narrowing, or foreign objects that make it hard to swallow.

Credits

Current as of: June 17, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Peter J. Kahrilas MD - Gastroenterology