Barium beefsteak meal. During this test, the patient eats a meal containing barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray), allowing the radiologist to watch the stomach as it digests the meal. The amount of time it takes for the barium meal to be digested and leave the stomach gives the physician an idea of how well the stomach is working and helps to detect emptying problems that may not show up on the liquid barium x-ray.
Colorectal transit study. This test shows how well food moves through the colon. The patient swallows capsules containing small markers which are visible on x-ray. The patient follows a high-fiber diet during the course of the test, and the movement of the markers through the colon is monitored with abdominal x-rays taken several times three to seven days after the capsule is swallowed.
Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan). This diagnostic imaging procedure uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
Defecography. Defecography is an x-ray of the anorectal area that evaluates completeness of stool elimination, identifies anorectal abnormalities, and evaluates rectal muscle contractions and relaxation. During the examination, the patient's rectum is filled with a soft paste that is the same consistency as stool. The patient then sits on a toilet positioned inside an x-ray machine, and squeezes and relaxes the anus to expel the solution. The physician studies the x-rays to determine if anorectal problems occurred while the patient was emptying the paste from the rectum.
Lower GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium enema). A lower GI series is a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. Barium is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. The patient lies on a bed that moves into the cylindrical MRI machine. The machine takes a series of pictures of the inside of the body using a magnetic field and radio waves. The computer enhances the pictures produced. The test is painless, and does not involve exposure to radiation. Because the MRI machine is like a tunnel, some people are claustrophobic or unable to hold still during the test, and may be given a sedative to help them relax. Metal objects cannot be present in the MRI room, so persons with pacemakers or metal clips or rods inside the body cannot have this test done. All jewelry must be removed before the procedure.
Oropharyngeal motility (swallowing) study. This is a study in which the patient is given small amounts of a liquid containing barium to drink with a bottle, spoon, or cup. A series of x-rays is taken to evaluate what happens as the liquid is swallowed.
Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan. During this test, the patient eats food containing a radioisotope, which is a slightly radioactive substance that will show up on a scan. The dosage of radiation from the radioisotope is very small and not harmful, but allows the radiologist to see the food in the stomach and how quickly it leaves the stomach, while the patient lies under a machine.
Ultrasound. Ultrasound is a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels. Gel is applied to the area of the body being studied, such as the abdomen, and a wand called a transducer is placed on the skin. The transducer sends sound waves into the body that bounce off organs and return to the ultrasound machine, producing an image on the monitor. A picture or videotape of the test is also made so it can be reviewed in the future.
Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow). Upper GI series is a diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). Barium is swallowed and x-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.