Esophagrams: Your Questions Answered!

Esophagrams: Your Questions Answered!

Your questions answered about… esophagrams!


What is it?

  • An esophagram is a radiology study of the esophagus – the part of the body connecting the mouth and stomach. In this exam, barium is used as a contrast agent to assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus with fluoroscopy and x-ray.
  • Images are taken with fluoroscopy with low dose x-rays.


Why do we do it?

  • Choking
  • Epigastric pain
  • Reflux disease symptoms, which can include heartburn, chest pain or discomfort, a burning sensation, or excessive burping.
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Following procedures on the esophagus or upper stomach, including after gastric banding procedures
  • Chronic cough
  • Sensation of foreign body


How do we do it?

  • We will review your medical history – please make sure to let us know if you have had any surgeries on your throat, esophagus or upper gastrointestinal tract.
  • We usually start the study with a small amount of gas crystals to help distend the esophagus so we can better assess its lining.
  • You will then be asked to drink an oral contrast material (a barium drink). Barium lines the esophagus.
  • We will evaluate with real-time fluoroscopy to see how the muscles of your esophagus are working.
  • Images are obtained of the esophagus with the patient positioned first upright and then horizontal.


Do I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

  • No preliminary preparation is needed for the test.
  • We will ask for a list of your medications and drug allergies. If you have had a prior reaction to a contrast material, we will discuss the reaction with you and may adjust how we do the procedure.


Are there risks?

  • Low dose x-rays are used during the test. This test is usually avoided during pregnancy.
  • The oral barium is inert, meaning it goes straight through your gastrointestinal system. It may cause constipation, but is otherwise tolerated well in most patients.


Anything to know after the procedure?

  • We will ask that you drink lots of fluids to help flush the barium out of the system to avoid constipation!
  • You can resume your normal diet immediately.   
  • Your results will usually be discussed with you immediately following the procedure by the radiologist.
  • A full report of findings will be faxed to your referring physician by the end of the day.