Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Explained: Small Bowel Follow Through

Today I had my first Small Bowel Follow Through. This is a test that allows the doctor to see an x-ray of your small intestine as the Barium you swallow moves through and shows up very clearly on the x-ray. It wasn't too bad after all, and for me it took less than an hour.

The day before, I had to eat a light early supper and then no more food. Then, nothing to drink after midnight. When I was called out of the waiting room, I was initially told to change into a hospital gown, but when the technician saw I was wearing athletic pants (no metal) she let me leave my clothes on. I was brought 2 cups of thick, chalky white liquid Barium that looks a little like white paint. I'm not going to lie, it tastes gross and feels grosser. Even with the faint fruit flavouring. My body just does not want to swallow something of this bizarre consistency so I really had to concentrate to get it all down. That took me about 10 minutes of fighting the urge to gag and ignoring the rumble in my stomach.

Then I was brought into the x-ray room and asked to lay down on a platform. I had to hike up my bra so the metal in it wouldn't interfere and they lowered a camera arm over my abdomen. The tech took an x-ray of me lying flat on my back. When she looked at it she was surprised how far the Barium had moved already and she moved the camera down toward my mid stomach a few inches and took another shot.

Then I was returned to my chair in the hall outside the X-ray labs and waited around with my Mom for about 20 minutes. Then I was brought back in, this time to a different x-ray lab (just a coincidence I think) and two techs this time took images of me rolling over on either side, the tech had a little wand thing to press down on my stomach gently. I could even see the video of my insides on a monitor next to me and could see my insides squirming around (wish I had been wearing my glasses for a clearer view). I'm amazed how much your insides slosh around when you are laying still! The fact that I could see video however means to me, that I was being constantly bombarded with some level of radiation. Not cool.

After a few images were snapped and a bit of moving side to side- that was it. I was allowed to go home. I did ask the first technician how many x-ray tests like this it would take to affect my ability to have children some day. She looked at me with wide eyes and asked- "Are you pregnant??". I said no, but I want to know if all these tests I'm having will make me infertile. She said, "oh, you don't have to worry about that at all. How many x-ray tests have you had like this?" I said about 4, and she smiled and said "oh, you don't have to worry about that at all". So I feel better about that.

When I got home I started drinking tons of water as instructed... and a little over an hour after I first drank the Barium, it started leaving my body (ahem to put it nicely). It's pretty gross, but because your body does not absorb it... and it's a liquid (or maybe it's a fine powder mixed in a liquid- it IS a heavy metal after all) your body just passes it through without digesting or absorbing it. I'm not concerned about how fast it passed, b/c my breakfast didn't follow it in the same amount of time. So no worries here. Update: 48 hours later it's still not all out of my system. And I did get some bloating and a bit of pain a day after. My system did not like the Barium that's for sure. Found this quote:

"Following the examination, barium may cause constipation. The patient may be advised to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in fiber to expel the barium from the body." (

Overall the worst part is drinking the Barium. It's not a scary test after all- and it does give your doctor a good view of an otherwise difficult to access part of your digestive tract. So if you're scheduled for one- don't worry, it's not too bad.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the Barium swallow. My system is notoriously slow on this stuff (because it knows what's coming, I guess). I usually have to drink an extra dose of lord-knows-what that supposedly speeds up the process. Like you said, the swallow is worse than anything else. Thank goodness it's over with first!