Modified Barium Swallow Study

Feeding and swallowing problems (dysphagia) are extremely complex and surprisingly common in children. Approximately 25 percent of children admitted to a pediatric hospital have some type of growth or feeding problem.

Children with feeding and swallowing problems have a wide variety of symptoms. These may include:

  • arching or stiffening of the body during feeding
  • irritability or lack of alertness during feeding
  • refusing food or liquid
  • failure to accept different textures of food (e.g., only pureed foods or crunchy cereals)
  • long feeding times (more than 30 minutes)
  • difficulty chewing
  • difficulty breast feeding
  • coughing or gagging during meals
  • excessive drooling, or food or liquid coming out of the mouth or nose
  • difficulty coordinating breathing with eating and drinking
  • increased stuffiness during meals
  • gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice quality
  • recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
  • less than normal weight gain or growth

As a result, children may be at risk for:

  • dehydration or poor nutrition
  • aspiration (food or liquid entering the airway)
  • pneumonia or repeated upper respiratory infections that can lead to chronic lung disease
  • embarrassment or isolation in social situations involving eating

If you suspect that your child is having difficulty eating, contact your pediatrician right away.

Find a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Your pediatrician will examine your child and address any medical reasons for the feeding difficulties, including the presence of reflux. A Speech-language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in treating children with feeding and swallowing disorders can evaluate your child at the request of your pediatrician and may:

  • ask questions about your child's medical history, development, and symptoms
  • look at the strength and movement of the muscles involved in swallowing
  • observe feeding to see your child' s posture, behavior, and oral movements during eating and drinking
  • perform special tests, if necessary, to evaluate swallowing, such as a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBS)/Pharyngeal Function Study

A Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBS) or Pharyngeal Function Study is a video x-ray of the swallowing process. This study lets the Speech-language pathologist see what is happening inside your child's mouth and throat. It can show if food or liquid is going into the airway instead of the stomach, which is called aspiration. It can also help to identify which parts of the mouth and throat are not working well. The MBS is performed in the radiology department by an SLP, in conjunction with a radiology technician, who runs the equipment. The study is recorded so it can be reviewed with a radiologist. The child is placed in a typical feeding position. The child is then given a variety of food consistencies (thin liquid, thick liquid, puree, and/or solid) that are appropriate based on their age and developmental level. Barium is added to the food or liquid to allow the Speech-language pathologist to see the food or liquid as it moves in your child’s mouth and throat. Barium is not dangerous for babies or young children. However, you may see it in the baby's diaper for a few days after the study. As a parent or caregiver, you may be asked to feed your child during the study. You will be given a lead vest as protection from the x-rays. The x-ray machine is only turned on while your child is swallowing in order to limit the amount of overall radiation.

Results are discussed with you at the end of the evaluation. Recommendations regarding safe and efficient eating and drinking will be made and may include: removing certain food items, changing the thickness of liquids consumed, altering the child’s bottle, nipple, or utensils, and/or specific feeding techniques.


Quick Reference

Phone 336-716-3103
Fax 336-716-8161

8 am - 5 pm Mon-Fri
Pediatric Speech Pathology
Hearing and Speech
2nd Floor CompRehab Plaza
131 Miller Street
Winston-Salem, NC  27103
Find a Doctor Ways to Give
Last Updated: 11-06-2014
USNWR 2013-2014Magnet Hospital RecognitionConsumer Choice2014 Best DoctorsJoint Commission Report

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.