Published: May 16, 2007
Updated: Aug. 22, 2011
What is a videofluoroscopic swallow study?
A videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS) is an x-ray study of swallowing function. A speech pathologist performs the study, along with a radiologist. The radiologist takes moving x-ray images of the mouth and throat while you swallow food and liquid, mixed with barium.
Why is it ordered? What information will it give my doctors? How will it help me?
The VFSS will test your ability to swallow food and drink safely and comfortably. If you have trouble swallowing, called dysphagia, you may be at risk for aspiration. Aspiration occurs when food or drink enters the windpipe, potentially going into the lungs. Aspiration may put you at risk for developing an infection of the lungs, called aspiration pneumonia. Swallowing problems may also put you at risk for not getting enough liquids or food (dehydration or malnutrition).
Based on information from the study, the speech pathologist will help your doctor determine the best way for you to get the nutrition you need. This may include changing your diet, using strategies to make swallowing safer and easier, or other options.
What should my doctor know before I have this procedure done?
Let your doctor know if you are or may be pregnant. Also, let your doctor know if you have had previous side effects from barium.
Where will this be done?
The study is done in the radiology department at the hospital or outpatient clinic.
Do I need someone to drive me home afterward?
Do I need to do anything to get ready for this test?
What happens during the procedure?
You will be sitting up with x-ray equipment beside of you. The speech pathologist will give you food and liquids mixed with barium to swallow. Barium is visible on the x-rays, so the speech pathologist will see if any material enters your windpipe. If you have swallowing problems, you may be asked to try different techniques or positions while you swallow to see if they help.
Is this procedure painful?
No. It is not painful, but the barium may taste chalky.
How long does it take?
The study usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Then the speech pathologist will review the results and discuss them with you.
What are the risks with this procedure?
Risks include exposure to a small 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.
How will I get the results of this test?
A full report of the study 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.
This article is intended as a resource for patients receiving their cancer care at Duke University Hospital or Duke Clinic. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice from your health care team. If your doctor’s instructions differ from the information in this article, please talk with your doctor before making any changes.