Research Article

Diagnostic and therapeutic efficacy of barium meal examination: a prospective evaluation in general practice.

BMJ 1989; 299 doi: (Published 09 December 1989) Cite this as: BMJ 1989;299:1443
  1. B. G. Conry,
  2. A. M. McLean,
  3. M. J. Farthing
  1. Department of Radiology, St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.


    OBJECTIVE--To assess the efficacy of barium meal examinations in managing patients with dyspepsia in general practice. DESIGN--Prospective study by questionnaires completed by general practitioners before and within three to six months after the barium meal examination. Information was requested about the patients' symptoms, current treatment, reason for requesting the examination, and the working diagnosis, including degree of certainty and, after the examination, about any change in diagnosis, diagnostic confidence, or management and to determine whether the examination was judged to be helpful or not. SETTING--Inner city health district. PATIENTS--133 Patients with dyspepsia referred by general practitioners for outpatient barium meal examination, 31 of whom failed to attend for the examination, or refused it on arrival, or did not have fully completed questionnaires. Two patients were not available for follow up. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Prevalence of radiological abnormalities and the influence of the examination result on management, particularly changes in drug treatment. RESULTS--Fully completed pairs of questionnaires were available for 100 patients, 58 of whom were aged below 50. Most of the barium meal reports (64) were to confirm the clinical diagnosis; only 22 were to exclude serious disease. Ninety nine patients were already receiving treatment, with 39 taking an H2 receptor antagonist. Fifty eight barium meal examinations showed abnormalities (31 major abnormalities); there were no cancers and in only 18 patients was the working diagnosis changed as a result of the findings. Although the barium meal result increased management confidence (63 patients) and allayed patients' anxiety (46), changes in management attributed directly to the examination occurred in only 22 patients. Management changes were minor, usually comprising interchange of antacids and H2 receptor antagonists. CONCLUSIONS--Young patients (aged below 50) with dyspepsia are still being overinvestigated. Although barium meal examination improves diagnostic confidence and allays patients' anxiety, fully utilising communication skills at the initial consultation might allay anxiety more economically.

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