How does a barium swallow diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Less useful than other diagnostic tests for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a barium swallow is occasionally used to rule out other conditions such as a large ulcer. The patient drinks a liquid barium mixture and then undergoes an x-ray examination of the chest and upper abdomen. The barium, a contrast medium, defines the esophagus on the x-ray image and can help the physician identify problems such as a hiatal hernia, esophageal ulcers, or a stricture (narrowing) of the esophagus. This test is called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series when the stomach and first part of the small intestine are also examined.

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