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What is a videofluoroscopic swallow study?
A videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS) is an x-ray evaluation of swallowing function. A Speech-Language Pathologist performs the study jointly with a Radiologist.
Moving x-ray images of the mouth and throat are taken while food and liquid of different textures and consistencies, mixed with barium, are swallowed.
Why have a VFSS?

When you have a swallowing test in the SLP's office or in your hospital room, the SLP can't see what is happening inside your mouth and throat. The VFSS lets the SLP see:

  • if food is going into your airway instead of your stomach, called aspiration
  • which parts of your mouth and throat may not be working well
  • what kinds of food are safest for you to swallow
  • if certain positions or strategies help you swallow better

Babies and young children can also have this test done. Your SLP can tell you more about what to expect for your child.

What happens during the procedure?
You will be seated upright in a special chair with x-ray equipment beside you. The Speech-Language Pathologist will give you food and liquids mixed with barium to swallow.
Barium is visible on the x-rays, allowing the Speech-Language Pathologist and Radiologist to see how the food and liquid travels through your mouth, passes down your throat to the area at the top of your esophagus.

If you have swallowing problems, you may be asked to try different techniques or positions while you swallow to compensate for these difficulties.
If your child is having a VFSS, you may be asked to hold him in your lap. You will be given protection from x-rays, like lead vests and cover ups. You may feed your baby from a bottle if that is how he eats. Barium is not dangerous for babies or young children. You may see it in the baby's diaper for a few days after the study.
You should not have this test done if you think you may be pregnant. It is not safe to have x-rays while pregnant.

What information will VFSS give my Speech-Language Pathologist and Doctor?
The VFSS will assess your ability to swallow food and liquids safely and comfortably. Based on information from the VFSS, the speech-language pathologist will help your doctor determine the best way for you to get the nutrition you need. This may include a modified diet, strategies to make swallowing safer and easier, or other options.

Is this procedure painful?
No, but the barium may taste chalky.

How long does the procedure take?
On average a VSFE takes 10 to 15 minutes, but the x-ray machine will usually only be turned on for one to three minutes of this time. It will take additional time for your speech-language pathologist to review the results and discuss those with you.

What are the risks involved?
Risks include exposure to a minimal amount of radiation. If you are pregnant, special precautions will be taken to protect your unborn child, or an alternative procedure may be recommended.
If you have swallowing problems, there is a risk that you may aspirate a small amount of barium. The speech pathologist will make every effort to minimize any aspiration that occurs.

What should my speech-language pathologist know before I have this procedure done?
Let your speech-language pathologist know if you are or may be pregnant. Inform us of any food allergies, especially allergy to barium. Also, let your speech-language pathologist know if you have previously experienced side effects from ingesting barium. In addition, a list of your current medications, diet, recent hospitalizations, and your past medical history are beneficial.

Where will this be done?
The study is performed in the radiology department at a hospital or outpatient clinic. When you make your appointment you will be told where to check in on the day of your appointment.

Can I drive home afterward?

How do I need to prepare for this test?
Adult patients can eat and drink normally throughout the day. Pediatric patients should not eat or drink at least two hours before the test.

How will I get the results of this test?
The results of your test will be discussed with you immediately after the test. Additionally, a full report of the test will be given to your doctor. The speech pathologist will work with you and your doctor to determine the best nutrition plan for you based on the results.