Got barium?

By • Published: October 20th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The thought of undergoing a CT scan may make you gulp, especially if you have to swallow barium solution before the procedure.

But now there appears to be an easy-to-sip substitute for the point one percent [.1 percent] barium cocktail commonly taken by patients with gastrointestinal ailments before CT exams.

Got milk, anyone?

That’s right. Radiologists at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York say ordinary whole milk appears to be just as effective at adding contrast to medical images, and it’s cheaper.

CT stands for computed tomography, an imaging technique that uses X-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the body. Certain abdominal and pelvic exams require a special dye, called contrast, to highlight areas inside the body to create a clearer image.

The contrast liquid tastes chalky and the flavoring… well, let’s just say that not many people would want to start their day with a glassful. A more agreeable alternative may lie ahead.

Researchers compared one-hundred-fifteen patients who used milk as a contrast agent with one-hundred patients who drank barium solution. Two radiologists reviewed the images and scored them based on degrees of bowel wall visibility and other factors. They found that milk was just as useful as barium for pelvic or abdominal scans.

Whether milk becomes a common menu item at medical imaging facilities remains uncertain, but researchers said it was cheaper than diluted barium… about a dollar-fifty compared with eighteen dollars.

Besides that, patients liked it better. Which makes sense. After all, who ever says, “Got barium?”