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Modified Barium Swallow

What is a modified barium swallow test?

A modified barium swallow test checks the ability to swallow. It is a “live” x-ray that shows food and liquid as it is being swallowed. The images can be viewed on a computer screen during the test.

How is a modified barium swallow test used?

This test can show if there is anything that can be done to make swallowing easier or safer.

How long does a modified barium swallow test take?

The test takes usually takes 20-30 minutes.

Who performs a modified barium swallow test?

A speech-language pathologist or feeding specialist will perform the test. A radiologist will be there, too. They will oversee the use of the x-ray machine.

What should I do to prepare my child for a modified barium swallow test?

Every center has different instructions, but these general tips can help. Be sure to follow the directions your child’s testing center gives you.

  • Explain the test in simple terms. Let your child know they’ll be eating or drinking during the test and that the care team will use the test to see how your child swallows.
  • It can be helpful to use play. Consider role-playing using your child’s favorite toy or object. It may help older children to see pictures of what happens during the test.
  • Your child shouldn’t eat or drink before the test. Your center will let you know how long.
  • Tell your child’s speech-language pathologist about any allergies. This is important if your child is allergic to contrast liquids like barium.
  • Patients who are pregnant should not have the test.

What happens during a modified barium swallow test?

Every center is different, but here’s what you can expect in general during the test.

  • At most centers, one parent can stay in the room.
  • Everyone in the room except for the patient will wear a lead shield to avoid exposure to the x-rays.
  • The test is performed while your child is seated. The x-ray tube will focus on your child’s mouth and throat.
  • Your child will swallow liquids and foods that contain barium. This which helps these items appear on an x-ray. Your child may be asked to eat or drink items of different thicknesses and textures. They can include:
    • Thin liquid
    • Pudding
    • 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 and look for swallowing problems. 
  • If needed, the speech-language pathologist will suggest ways to make eating safer and easier.

How will I get my child’s test results?

The speech-language pathologist usually shares results and recommendations after the test.

Sometimes the speech-language pathologist will consult with your child’s care team before talking with you.

Reviewed: October 2021