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Modified Barium Swallow

A modified barium swallow test checks the ability to swallow. It can also show if there is anything that can be done to make swallowing easier or safer.

It is a “live” X-ray that shows food and liquid as it is being swallowed. The images are viewed on a computer screen as the test is performed.

The test takes usually takes 20-30 minutes.

Who performs the test?

A speech-language pathologist or feeding specialist will perform the test.

How should patients prepare for the test?

  • Every center has different instructions. Follow directions exactly.
  • Instructions will include recommendations for eating and drinking before the test. The patient should not eat or drink for several hours before the test.
  • Families should tell the speech-language pathologist about any allergies, especially to contrast liquids such as barium.
  • Patients who are pregnant should not have the test.

What will happen during the test?

  • Everyone in the room except for the patient will wear a lead shield to avoid exposure to the X-rays.
  • At most centers, one parent can stay in the room.
  • While the patient is seated, the X-ray tube will focus on the mouth and throat.
  • The patient will swallow liquids and foods that contain barium, which helps these items appear on an X-ray as the patient swallows them. The patient may consume substances of different thicknesses and textures from thin liquid to pudding to barium-coated cookies or crackers.

The X-ray machine will show the food and liquid as it moves from the mouth to the stomach. The computer will video the exam. The speech-language pathologist will watch carefully and look for swallowing problems. If problems are noted, the speech-language pathologist will suggest ways to make eating safer and easier.

How can parents help patients prepare?

  • Explain the test in brief and simple terms. Explain that the patient will eat or drink during the exam, so the speech-language pathologist can see how the patient swallows.
  • Use play when helpful. This can involve role-playing with a child’s favorite toy or object. It may help older children to see pictures of what happens during the test.

How will I get test results?

The speech-language pathologist usually shares results and recommendations after the test. Sometimes, the speech-language pathologist will consult with the patient’s oncologist or other members of the medical team before talking with the family.


Reviewed: June 2018

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