Modified barium swallow is a method used to evaluate the swallowing process of patients who have a difficult time swallowing food without inhaling it into the windpipe, according to HealthCommunities.com. Barium sulfate is ingested by the patient to outline the mouth, throat and esophagus for x-rays.
During a modified barium swallow, the patient is either strapped to a vertical x-ray table or seated in a chair before consuming a meal containing barium sulfate. As the patient swallows the food, examiners watch the swallowing process through fluoroscopic imaging. The entire test or pieces of the test may be recorded on video for later examination. The patient must remain still throughout the entire procedure, which generally lasts 30 minutes to one hour. HealthCommunities.com states that a radiologist, speech pathologist or otolaryngologist may all be present during a modified barium swallow.
Women who are pregnant or may be pregnant should not have a modified barium swallow due to exposure to ionizing radiation that may harm the fetus. According to HealthCommunities.com, the procedure is also not recommended for patients who aspirate saliva. Before the procedure, patients must refrain from eating or drinking anything for four hours. After the procedure, the examiner may review the test findings to identify an underlying illness or recommend a specific method to correct the swallowing problem.