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Videofluoroscopic swallow study for children

A videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) is a radiology procedure used to look at your child's swallowing. It can also be called a modified barium swallow. The study is used to investigate your child's swallowing problems and guide how to manage and treat them.

You can think of the study as an X-ray movie of your child swallowing. It shows how food and drink move from their mouth, through their throat and into their food pipe (oesophagus).

The study is run by a speech-language therapist with help from radiation therapists and radiologists in a radiology suite. It can be done through the public system at either Christchurch Hospital or Burwood Hospital, or privately at St George's Hospital through the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research.

Preparing for a videofluoroscopic swallow study

Your child can eat, drink, have tube feeds and take any medicines as usual before the study. As the study involves eating and drinking, it's helpful if your child is hungry enough to eat and drink during the study.

What to bring to a videofluoroscopic swallow study

Bring your child’s usual food and drink:

Make sure your child isn't wearing any metal on their head or upper body, such as jewellery or metal clothes fasteners. These can get in the way of the X-rays. Your child can wear glasses if needed.

During a videofluoroscopic swallow study

Your child's speech-language therapist will explain the procedure and tell you which food and drinks they will be giving to your child. Before the study starts, tell your speech-language therapist about any allergies, or dietary or cultural requirements that your child has.

You should stay with your child during the study. You'll be given a lead apron to wear.

Depending on your child’s age, they'll be seated in a normal chair, a seat similar to a car seat, or their own seating system.

The speech-language therapist will give your child different types of food to swallow. These will be mixed with a contrast material (usually barium) so they show up on the X-ray.

Your child will be encouraged to eat as normally as possible during the study. The speech-language therapist may change things like the food texture, the eating utensils or your child's sitting position.

Sometimes it's helpful to do a fatigue (tiredness) test. This means that the camera is turned off for a short time while your child keeps eating and drinking. The camera is then turned on again to look for any changes to their swallowing that might be due to them getting tired.

The speech-language therapist will see you for 20 to 30 minutes before the study. The study usually takes 20 minutes.

If your child's speech-language therapist has already talked to you about the study, you may go straight to the X-ray room for the procedure.

What happens after my child's swallow study

The speech-language therapist may make some recommendations at the time of the study. They may also need to arrange a separate time to discuss the findings in more detail.

The speech-language therapist and radiologist will both review the study. They'll send a report to you and to the other health professionals involved in your child's care.

Written by Paediatric Speech Language Therapy Department, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2020.

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Page reference: 424183

Review key: HISWD-121957