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Gastrointestinal (GI) Series

This information will help you prepare for your gastrointestinal (GI) series at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).

A GI series is an x-ray in which a liquid called barium is used to see your esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and part of your small intestine.

1 Week Before Your Procedure

Ask about your medications

You may need to stop taking some of your medications before your procedure. 

  • If you take insulin or other medications for diabetes, you may need to change the dose. Ask the doctor who prescribes your diabetes medication what you should do the day before and the morning of your procedure.

If your doctor tells you to take any medications the morning of your procedure, use the area below to write them down.

The Day Before Your Procedure

You can eat a normal dinner the night before your procedure. 

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure. This includes water, gum, and hard candy.

The Day of Your Procedure

Things to remember

  • Do not eat or drink anything the morning of your procedure. This includes water, gum, and hard candy.
  • Take only the medications you were instructed to take the morning of your procedure. You may have written them down above. Take them with a few sips of water. If you will need to take any medication after your procedure, bring it with you to the hospital.
  • Brush your teeth and rinse your mouth the morning of your procedure, but do not swallow the water.

What to bring

  • A list of the medications you take at home, including patches and creams
  • Medications for breathing problems (such as inhalers), medications for chest pain, and any medications that you will need to take after your procedure

Where to park

Parking at MSK is available in the garage on East 66th Street between York and First Avenues. To reach the garage, enter East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is located about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue, on the right-hand (north) side of the street. There is a pedestrian tunnel that you can walk through that goes from the garage into the hospital. If you have questions about prices, call (212) 639-2338.

There are also other garages located on East 69th Street between First and Second Avenues, East 67th Street between York and First Avenues, and East 65th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Where to go

You will have your procedure at 425 East 67th Street between First and York Avenues. This is a side entrance of the main MSK building. Take the A elevator to the 2nd floor.

What to expect

Once you arrive at the hospital, doctors, nurses, and other staff members will ask you to state and spell your name and date of birth many times. This is for your safety. Patients with the same or similar name may be having procedures on the same day.

You will change into a hospital gown and remove all your jewelry and dentures. Your radiologist will review the procedure with you and answer your questions. You will be given barium, a white, chalk-like liquid, to drink. Your radiologist will tell you when and how much of it to drink.

You will be helped onto the x-ray table and helped to lie flat on your back. Your radiologist will watch the barium move through your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine on x-ray. You may be asked to change positions or to stand, if you can. This will help the barium coat your intestines.

Your technologist will take x-rays throughout your exam. If you need x-rays of your small intestine, you will receive 1 to 2 extra cups of barium to drink. Then, more x-rays will be taken 30 minutes apart. You will be asked to wait while your x-rays are being processed.

Once your radiologist has reviewed all of the x-rays, you can leave. This process takes anywhere from 1 to 5 hours. Sometimes, more x-rays are needed 12 or 24 hours later. If you need more x-rays, your radiologist will tell you.

After Your Procedure

You can go back to your usual diet and activities unless your doctor or nurse gives you other instructions.

If you are an outpatient, your results will be available 2 days after your procedure. You can get the results from your doctor. If you are an inpatient, your results will be available the same day as your procedure. You can get the results from any doctor that is treating you.

Your stool (feces) will be white for the next few days as your body gets rid of the barium. Barium can cause constipation, so drink extra liquids to help move it out of your intestine. Some patients need a laxative such as milk of magnesia or an enema to remove all of the barium. If your stool has not returned to its normal color and consistency a few days after your barium enema, ask your doctor if you should take a laxative.

Contact Information

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk with your doctor, nurse, or another member of your healthcare team at the Department of Radiology. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at (212) 639-7298.

After 8:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call (212) 639-2000 and ask for the doctor on call for your doctor.