An X-ray is a painless test that produces images of the inside of the body using small doses of radiation. X-rays can be taken of any part of the body, including chest, bone and spine. They are also used during bone density scans and with contrast studies of the kidneys, bladder, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Barium X-rays diagnose conditions in the upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, while a fluoroscopy looks at moving parts within the body.

Houston Methodist is committed to ensuring our patients have access to the latest and safest X-ray technology, which is interpreted by board-certified radiologists in order to make the best possible diagnosis and recommend the most accurate course of treatment. We offer the following X-ray services at a number of locations across the Greater Houston area for your convenience:

Barium X-rays
Barium X-rays (also called upper and lower GI series) can help with diagnosing conditions like tumors, polyps, hernias, strictures, ulcers and other inflammatory conditions in the GI tract. X-rays are taken of the area under examination with the use of barium sulfate, a metallic chemical through which X-rays will not pass. A number of common symptoms call for barium X-rays:

  • Stomach pain, cramping or bloating
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Abrupt changes in bowel movements, including chronic diarrhea or constipation, or blood coming from the rectum
  • Finding it hard to swallow
  • Sudden and significant weight loss

At Houston Methodist, we offer five types of barium X-rays:

  • Barium enema: This assesses the large intestine and involves filling the large intestine with diluted barium liquid through a rectal tube, while X-ray images are being taken. Barium enemas can help diagnose disorders of the large intestine, colon and rectum, including colonic tumors, polyps and diverticula.
  • Small bowel follow through: Also called a small bowel series, this focuses on the small intestine. During this procedure, X-rays are taken of the abdomen prior to drinking 16 to 20 ounces of barium liquid. After the patient has finished drinking the barium, the technologist will take a series of abdominal X-rays every 15 to 30 minutes. Once the barium reaches a certain point within the colon, the radiologist may take additional X-ray images to complete the study.
  • Upper gastrointestinal series: An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series is a non-invasive procedure to study the form and function of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, and to detect abnormal anatomical and functional conditions. Some of the more common abnormalities seen are peptic ulcers, hiatal hernias, acute or chronic gastritis, carcinomas and benign lesions, such as polyps or diverticula.
  • Barium swallow: A barium swallow study, also called an esophagram, examines the upper GI tract to look for abnormalities of the pharynx (back of the mouth and throat) and esophagus (hollow tube of muscle extending from below the tongue to the stomach).
  • Modified barium swallow: A modified barium swallow evaluates the swallowing process from the mouth to the pharynx and down to the esophagus. A speech pathologist is present during the exam to assess the patient’s swallowing ability so they can devise a strategy to correct the problem.

Each procedure requires the intake of a specified amount of barium either through an IV or in the form of a drink. The length of the exams varies, as does the recovery period. You will receive explicit instructions on how to prepare for the procedure and what to expect during and afterward. One of our board-certified radiologists will interpret the exam and send a report of the results to your physician.

Bone Density Scans
Also referred to as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, bone density scanning measures bone loss via enhanced X-ray technology. A bone density (DEXA) scan measures the strength and density of bones. as menopause approaches for women who may be at risk for osteoporosis. Repeating the test at a later date enables Houston Methodist’s board-certified radiologist to determine how quickly a patient is losing bone mass and density. These tests are painless, non-invasive and safe. They compare bone density with standards for what is expected in someone of the same age, gender and size to the optimal peak bone density of a healthy young adult of the same gender. Bone density testing can help detect low bone density to avoid and predict future fractures, confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis, and determine the rate of loss to monitor treatment. Houston Methodist’s radiologists use both computed radiography (CR) and digital radiography (DR) technology for bone density scans.

Fluoroscopy is a test that uses a continuous beam of X-rays to study the movement of internal body parts and systems. Our experienced technologists and radiologists use fluoroscopy to view moving parts like blood traveling through a blood vessel or food passing through the stomach and intestines, which helps with evaluating blockages in the arteries or getting a better view of a specific location inside the body. Fluoroscopy is used in many types of examinations and procedures, such as barium X-rays, cardiac catheterization and placement of intravenous (IV) catheters. 

  • In barium X-rays, fluoroscopy allows the physician to see the movement of the intestines as the barium moves through them. 
  • In cardiac catheterization, fluoroscopy enables evaluation of the presence of arterial blockages by seeing the flow of blood through the coronary arteries. 
  • For intravenous catheter insertion, fluoroscopy makes it easier to guide the catheter into a specific location inside the body.

During a fluoroscopy procedure, an IV line is placed in the patient’s hand or arm and they are positioned on the X-ray table. For procedures that require catheter insertion, such as cardiac catheterization or catheter placement, an additional line insertion site may be used in the groin, elbow or other site. A dye or contrast substance is injected into the IV line to better visualize the area being studied and then a special X-ray scanner is used to produce the fluoroscopic images.

Certain procedures, such as cardiac catheterization, will require a recovery period of several hours with immobilization of the leg or arm where the cardiac catheter was inserted. Other procedures may require less time for recovery. The radiologist will instruct on you what to do after the procedure is completed. One of our board-certified radiologists will interpret the exam and send a report of the results to your physician.

Additional Information and Scheduling Appointments
To learn more about X-rays and how to prepare for your appointment, please review our patient information, which includes frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Please call 713.790.3333 to schedule an appointment with a Houston Methodist board-certified radiologist.


Houston Methodist specializes in performing the latest and safest  X-ray services at the following convenient locations: