Modified Barium Swallow

Modified barium swallow, also called MBS, is an x-ray procedure which uses barium to examine problems with swallowing. Barium is a white, chalky contrast material that a person drinks while the radiologist takes pictures. The barium is mixed with liquids and foods, such as puddings or cookies, to show how they pass down the esophagus (the tube that carries the food to the stomach). MBS can also show if the food or liquid isn’t going to the stomach correctly.

The modified barium swallow is a common and safe procedure. Without the procedure, your problem may not be found. If the problem can be found, the proper treatment by the doctor can be given. Problems eating, digesting food, or having the bowels move properly may lead to other serious medical problems.

Before the test

  • Let the doctor know about all the medicine you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbs, and over-the-counter medicines. Certain medicines may need to be stopped for a time before the test.
  • Stop eating and drinking 4 hours before the test.
  • Follow any other instructions given by your doctor.

What happens during the test?

During the test you will be asked to drink the barium mixture. This drink may look like a milkshake, but tastes chalky. You may have the urge to throw up (vomit) as the barium goes down the throat. While you drink the barium, you will have to sit up, stand still, and move your neck and head as the pictures are taken. You will be encouraged to keep breathing, talking, swallowing, and change the head positions as you drink the barium.

If the barium can be swallowed without any problem, swallowing food will then be tested. These foods will have different thickness or texture. Barium-coated puddings and cookies, or barium tablets will be swallowed. Pictures will be taken to see how the food goes down the throat, esophagus and stomach. When the test is done, you will need to drink a lot of liquids to get rid of the barium in the body.

After the test

Resting in bed may be needed because the test can make you tired. Going to the bathroom to pass the barium will also be necessary. When the doctor sees that you are alright, you can go home.

The barium may cause constipation so plenty of liquids are needed. The stool will look chalky white or light for a few days. This is a sign that the barium is passing through the body.

Call the doctor if:

  • The constipation is severe or you do not see the stool white or chalky within 24 hours.
  • There is vomiting or the vomit has blood or bile in it.
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Have a fever.
  • Your symptoms get worse.