If you need to have x-rays or other special radiologic studies performed, your doctor will explain what tests are necessary and why. Here is a summary of the four basic exams:
Barium is administered to highlight the GI tract when exposed to x-rays. Barium is an inert, harmless mineral that prevents the passage of x-rays - just as your hand blocks sunlight. During an Upper GI
Series, you are given a flavored "milkshake" of liquid barium to drink. The barium fills your stomach making it visible on the x-ray film. The standard Upper GI evaluates the esophagus, stomach, and first portion of your small intestine - called the duodenum. This takes about 30 minutes. If your doctor requests that the remaining twenty feet of small intestine also be evaluated, the test is termed a Small Bowel Series and takes an additional two to three hours to complete. Both examinations require fasting after midnight, but no laxative preparation is necessary. You may drive yourself to and from this exam.
A similar examination of the large intestine, or colon, is called Lower GI, or Barium Enema. Of course, in this instance, the barium is not swallowed, but is given rectally as an enema. You will be placed on an x-ray table and a small soft tube will be inserted into the rectum. Through this tube the technician will fill the colon with barium and air before x-rays are taken. This examination takes less than an hour and requires fasting as well as an unpleasant laxative and dietary preparation the day before. Prep instructions vary and will be provided by our staff. Be sure to follow them exactly so the test need not be repeated.
An Ultrasound test utilizes specialized sound waves that bounce off your internal organs to obtain images - much like the way a fisherman users sonar to find the fish.
The pitch, or frequency, of these sound waves is far above the range of human hearing, hence the name Ultrasound. An Ultrasound is also the examination that is given to pregnant women to check the size of their baby before delivery. This same exam can also be used to visualize certain digestive organs, such as the gallbladder, liver and pancreas as well as the main abdominal blood vessel, the aorta.
During an ultrasound, you will be positioned on an examination table and a gel will be applied to your abdomen. A small probe, called a transducer, will be passed over the surface of your abdomen. The test is quick, painless, and requires very little preparation. Fasting after midnight is usually required. If your doctor also requests an evaluation of the lower abdomen, or pelvis, a full urinary bladder is also required. You may drive yourself to and from this exam.
A CAT Scan, also known as CT Scan, uses a complex computerized x-ray scanner that takes multiple views of your abdominal organs as you lie on a flat table.
A high speed computer analyses the information to create cross sectional images of parts of your body. The radiologist can then view these images in sequence, like slices in a loaf of bread, and create a virtual three dimensional view of your abdominal organs. CT is best suited for viewing the more solid digestive organs like liver, pancreas and kidney, and less suited for viewing the tubular air field intestinal tract.
Preparation consists of drinking plenty of fluids up until four hours before the examination. During the last four hours, you should avoid all food and drink.
Since the contrast material can potentially damage poorly functioning kidneys, you may be asked to give a blood sample to test your kidney function.
To make the examination more accurate, you will be asked to drink an oral contrast solution before the scan. Additional contrast material may also be given by vein to enhance the images. Since this solution contains iodine, be sure to tell the doctor if you have ever had an allergic reaction to iodine, IVP or catheterization dye, or shellfish. Depending on the nature of your previous reaction, the solution will have to be modified or simply not used.
The CT scan itself is simple and painless, and usually takes less than an hour to complete. Serious side effects are rare, but a temporary feeling of warmth and mild nausea are common after the IV contrast injection. After the examination, you will be able to resume your normal activities and diet. You should drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours after the examination to help flush out your system.
In some instances, your doctor may request that you have a nuclear scan. Although the name sounds a little unsettling, a nuclear scan involves only a small "tracer" dose of radioactive material, and is not dangerous.
Once this tracer is injected into your system, it can be followed through your digestive organs as you lie directly underneath a large, flat nuclear camera. A nuclear scan is most often used to assess liver and gallbladder function. Other uses include measurement of stomach emptying and localization of intestinal bleeding. Nuclear scans require very little preparation. You may drive yourself to and from these exams.
Where Is The Test Performed?
If barium was used for your test, you might want to take a mild laxative such as an ounce of Milk of Magnesia after the x-ray. This helps eliminate the barium from your system. If this is not done, the barium can harden, much like plaster of Paris, making elimination quite difficult.
X-ray, Ultrasound, CAT scan and Nuclear Scan exams require specialized equipment and highly trained technicians. They are usually performed in a hospital our specialized outpatient facility.
Who Performs The Exam?
In most cases, the examination will be performed by a specially trained technician who is expert in using the equipment. The radiologist may or may not be present depending on the circumstances. However, the radiologist will review the final films and dictate with an official result.
How Do I Schedule My Test?
Our office can assist you in obtaining all the necessary information to schedule your examination with your local outpatient radiology department. Any special preparation instructions will be provided.
What About Side Effects?
There are no known side effects to health from ultrasound. Nuclear scans, CAT scans, and barium x-rays expose your body to small amounts of radiation. Any woman who is pregnant, or thinks she might be, or is breastfeeding, should let her doctor know before scheduling the examination. Also, if you believe that you are allergic to iodine dyes and are scheduled for a CT scan, notify your doctor.
How Do I Get The Results?
Once the test is completed, the films are developed and analyzed by the radiologist who then dictates a written report. Your doctor will contact you after reviewing the results in the context of your case. This may take about a week, but most reports arrive sooner.