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What is an esophagram?

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Quick Answer

An esophagogram, or barium swallow, is a diagnostic exam of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Doctors use the test to assess conditions such as gastric reflux disease, frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing or aspiration of food or fluid into the windpipe, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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During the exam, the patient swallows liquid barium sulfate that highlights the pharynx, esophagus and other structures on an X-ray to create a picture of the liquid’s progress through the body, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The barium appears white in X-ray studies, allowing doctors to see the motion of swallowing, the esophagus’ inside wall lining and the size and shape of structures in the gastrointestinal tract. The test is useful in the diagnosis of tumors, hernias, ulcers and diverticulum pockets.

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