Upper Gastrointestinal Study

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What is an upper gastrointestinal study?

An upper gastrointestinal (UGI) study, also called a UGI series, is when X-rays are used to look at the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. A simple UGI study examines the esophagus, stomach, and the beginning of the small intestine. A UGI study with a “small bowel follow-through” or “small bowel series” evaluates the esophagus, stomach, and the entire small intestine.

Why does my child need an upper gastrointestinal study?

A UGI study looks for problems with the UGI tract such as narrowing of the esophagus or twisting of the intestines (called intestinal malrotation). Symptoms of vomiting, difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, or poor weight gain are some reasons why your provider may order an abdominal ultrasound.

How is an upper gastrointestinal study performed?

A UGI study is performed by a radiology department. The radiology technician will ask your child to drink a substance called barium. Barium is a dry, white, chalky powder that is mixed with water to make a milkshake-like drink, usually chocolate or strawberry flavored.

The barium appears white on X-rays. Barium coats the inside of the GI tract so that the function, size, and shape of the GI tract can be seen. X-rays will be taken of the esophagus, stomach, and the small intestine as the barium moves through your child’s body.

Depending on the type of UGI study and the areas evaluated, the study usually lasts between 15 minutes and 1 hour

What happens before an upper gastrointestinal study?

You will be given instructions by your healthcare provider or the radiologist about when your child needs to stop eating and drinking before the exam. Your child’s stomach needs to be empty of food before a test to examine the GI tract.

What happens after an upper gastrointestinal study?

Your child will be able to resume a normal diet and activity. Your child may feel bloated or crampy or may experience some constipation due to the barium. Encourage your child to drink water to help pass a bowel movement. Due to the barium, your child’s bowel movements may be lighter or white in color for 48–72 hours after the study.

What are the risks of an upper gastrointestinal study?

There is minimal risk associated with a UGI study. Constipation or difficulty passing bowel movements can be a side effect of the barium. There is a small amount of radiation exposure when the X-rays are taken.

Some patients may be allergic to the flavoring added to some brands of barium. If your child has experienced allergic reactions after eating chocolate, certain berries, or citrus fruit, be sure to tell your provider or the technologist before the procedure.

What should we watch for after an upper gastrointestinal study?

Watch for fever, difficulty passing bowel movements, abdominal distention (stomach appearing large and hard to the touch), or abdominal pain. Contact your healthcare provider if your child is having these symptoms or is unable to pass bowel movements after a couple of days.


Hiorns, M.P. (2011). Gastrointestinal tract imaging in children: current techniques. Pediatric Radiology, 41, 42-54.

Authors: K. Kaufman, FNP; E. Burch, CPNP; K. Rowell, FNP
Reviewed: 10/23/2019

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North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
The Association of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Nurses
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation
The NASPGHAN Council For Pediatric Nutrition Professionals
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