Differences between barium swallow upper GI series and SBFT

What is the difference between barium swallow upper GI series and small bowel follow through (SBFT)? 

All three refer to a radiographic examination in which the patient ingests a radiopaque contrast medium, typically barium.

Unlike a barium swallow, an upper GI series does not evaluate swallowing and also includes evaluation of the stomach and duodenum in addition to the esophagus.

A SBFT solely focuses on the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum without evaluation of the esophagus or stomach.

An upper GI series is an examination of the esophagus and stomach using barium to coat the walls of the upper digestive tract so that it may be examined under X-ray.

An upper GI that focuses on the esophagus is also known as a barium swallow. Barium swallows and upper GI series are used to identify any abnormalities such as tumors, ulcers, hernias, pouches, strictures, and swallowing difficulties.

Barium swallow, upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, and small bowel follow-through (SBFT) are radiographic imaging procedures used to evaluate different parts of the digestive system. Here are the key differences between them:

  1. Barium Swallow:
  • Area Examined: A barium swallow is used to examine the upper part of the digestive tract, specifically the esophagus, and sometimes the stomach.
  • Procedure: During a barium swallow, the patient swallows a barium contrast solution, which coats the lining of the esophagus and stomach. X-ray images are then taken to visualize the movement of the barium as it passes through the esophagus and into the stomach. It helps identify abnormalities like esophageal strictures, tumors, or reflux.
  • Focus: The focus of a barium swallow is primarily on the esophagus and its function.
  1. Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series:
  • Area Examined: The upper GI series examines the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum.
  • Procedure: Similar to the barium swallow, the patient drinks a barium contrast solution. X-ray images are taken at different time intervals to observe the movement of barium through the upper GI tract. This procedure can detect conditions like ulcers, tumors, inflammation, or abnormalities in the stomach and duodenum.
  • Focus: The upper GI series is more comprehensive and includes the evaluation of the stomach and duodenum along with the esophagus.
  1. Small Bowel Follow-Through (SBFT):
  • Area Examined: The SBFT focuses on the small intestine, specifically the jejunum and ileum, which are the middle and end parts of the small intestine, respectively.
  • Procedure: The patient drinks a barium contrast solution, and X-ray images are taken at specific intervals as the barium travels through the small intestine. This test helps identify abnormalities like strictures, obstructions, inflammatory bowel disease, and tumors in the small bowel.
  • Focus: The SBFT is solely concerned with evaluating the small intestine, particularly the jejunum and ileum.

In summary, the main differences lie in the area of the digestive system that each procedure evaluates. The barium swallow focuses on the esophagus, the upper GI series includes the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum, while the SBFT is specific to the small intestine (jejunum and ileum). Each test serves different purposes and provides valuable information to diagnose and assess various digestive conditions. The choice of the test depends on the symptoms and the suspected location of the issue within the digestive tract.


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