The Uses Of Barium Sulfate In Medicine

Slightly different post this week- I recently did a school project on the uses of Barium Sulfate within medicine. I have cited the sources below incase you would like to do some further reading.

Barium sulfate is an odorless, insoluble white powder used in order to ingest and then for it to be used as a contrasting agent in X-raying the digestive tract. It is also used in various manufacturing applications and mixed into heavy concrete to serve as a radiation shield. [1] Barium is a heavy metal, it’s a water-soluble element and highly toxic. [3]

Unlike visual light, x rays pass straight through objects. Which is not useful for viewing organs in the body, as organs and tissues are a lot less dense than bones thus they do not show us on x rays as the rays pass straight through. [2] Therefore we use an artificial contrast called barium sulfate.


As Barium sulfate is ingested, it is extremely useful for investigating the digestive tract. [2] Barium ions are opaque to X- rays and can absorb X-rays more strongly than other compounds. In order to produce the liquid suspension of Barium sulfate that is given to the patients to ingest, water is added to the powder. The patients will be asked to drink the liquid before the test; barium molecules will go through the digestive system and cover all the lining of the system, that procedure is called barium meal. When air is introduced to expand the gut after the meal has been ingested, really detailed pictures of the bowel lining can be produced, using the thin layer of barium. Small tumors and ulcers can be diagnosed in this way. Whilst the liquid flows through the digestive system, X-Rays will be taken, and the shapes of the coated organs can be clearly seen, to look for problems in the digestive system. [3]


Barium is only highly toxic if it is in a water soluble salt. Barium sulfate is ok to use as it is insoluble in water meaning it forms a suspension not a solution in water. If it forms a solution it wouldn’t be useable as it would be absorbed into the body which leads to barium poisoning.  Barium poisoning can cause vomiting, colic, diarrhoea, tremors and paralysis. [4]


Common side effects of ingesting Barium sulfate include:  bloating, constipation, nausea and vomiting, tightness in the chest and troubled breathing. [5]


To conclude, Barium Sulfate is incredibly important in medicine as it is the only way that that digestive system can be examined medically without invasive surgeries. It only has few minor side effects however it is to be used with caution due to the risk of barium poisoning which can be extremely dangerous for the patient.

Source Appendix


[1]Harvard Catalyst Barium Sulfate”. Harvard Catalyst. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

[2]Barium Sulfate Used In X-Rays. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

[3]YMCICHEM – B- Why Is Barium Sulfate Safe To Use For X-Rays Of The Digestive System Even Though Barium Ions Are Poisonous?. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

[4]”Barium”. Education in Chemistry. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

[5] Barium Sulfate Side Effects In Detail – Drugs.Com”. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

The Mechanincal Brain

As neuroscience being a huge interest if mine, for this week’s blog post I have decided to write about how exactly technology has impacted it. When we think back to centuries ago, and think about how they wouldn’t have an electric scanning machine or any other electrical equipment, the question ‘How did they actually do it?’ pops into my head. Yet that is another story. Today I am focusing on the present day and how us have humans have formulated new technical equipment that is used everyday to save lives.


One of the main ways in which technology has impacted neuroscience is through the various different uses of brain scans. One of the main forms of brain scanning is through Computed Tomography (CT). A CT scanner circles the head so that x-rays penetrate the brain from many directions. The cross-sectional images generated during a CT scan can be reformatted in multiple planes, and can even generate three-dimensional images. These images can be viewed on a computer monitor, printed on film or transferred to a CD or DVD. Ct scans can be used to help assess head injuries, severe headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms of aneurysm, bleeding, stroke and brain tumors. However Ct scans aren’t to be over used as it has been stated ‘Researchers at the National Cancer Institute estimate that 29,000 future cancer cases could be attributed to the 72 million CT scans performed in the country in 2007.’ Says Carina Storrs a health writer whose work has appeared in Popular Science, The Scientist and, among other publications. Suggesting Ct scans have been said to contribute to cancer.

Magnetic resonance imaging is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. It is used to find problems such as tumours, bleeding, injury, blood vessel diseases, or infection. MRI also may be done to provide more information about a problem seen on an X-ray, ultrasound scan, or CT scan. MRI can look at the brain for tumours, an aneurysm, bleeding in the brain, nerve injury, and other problems, such as damage caused by a stroke. MRI can also find problems of the eyes and optic nerves, and the ears and auditory nerves. This has made it possible for us to understand neurosurgery by telling us things like, where the aneurysm is that needs to be clipped and what it looks like.  


 A scan that is similar to MRI is fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is a technique for measuring brain activity. It works by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity – when a brain area is more active it consumes more oxygen and to meet this increased demand blood flow increases to the active area. FMRI is used as appose to MRI as it shows not only the brain, yet the activity. This has contributed majorly to neuroscience as it means that Doctors and neurologists can really pin point what part of the brain is responsible for a certain action. As obviously the area with more oxygen in it at a particular time will be responsible for whatever the particular person is doing at a specific time.

Besides the various scanning techniques, technology can also be used for treatment for neurological illness. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) creates magnetic pulses to the scalp delivered through a coil at a rhythmic repetition rate. These pulses are used to stimulate different parts of the brain in order to enhance a particular action. At the current stage of development, this type of technique is not a cure for any kind of brain or memory disorder as we do not fully understand it and long term side effects are yet to be discovered. However, it does suggest that researchers are onto something big and further investigation into the uses of transcranial magnetic stimulation could eventually be used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia, and even common memory loss caused by aging. “This opens up a whole new area for treatment studies where we will try to see if we can improve function in people who really need it,” Dr J Voss exclaims in an article for The Medical Daily.


Consequently there has also been research into how stem cells can be used to remake different parts of the brain. The nervous system is a complex organ made up of nerve cells (also called neurons) and glial cells, which surround and support neurons. Neurons send signals that affect numerous functions including thought processes and movement. As you can probably fathom, the nervous system is extremely complicated and it seems impossible that stem cells can be used to help neurodegenerative diseases by recreating nervous system tissue. New neurons in the adult brain arise from slowly-dividing cells that appear to be the remnants of stem cells that existed during foetal brain development. It’s marvelous as these findings suggest that the brain may contain a built-in mechanism to repair itself. Unfortunately as far as we know, these new neurons are only generated in a few sites in the brain and turn into only a few specialized types of nerve cells. Although there are many different neuronal cell types in the brain.  The discovery of these cells has spurred further research into the characteristics of neural stem cells from the foetus and the adult. Hopefully scientists over time use this information to recreate these stem cell regenerating sites, so diseases like Alzheimer’s can be combatted as the brain will counteract the loss of grey matter in the brain.


As you can see, technology is a huge contributor to neuro science. It can be used to detect and even go as far as treating neurodegenerative diseases. However, neuroscience is still very new in the research of medicine. We still have a lot more theories that we need to develop and treatments for certain diseases may take a lot more time to formulate and create than we would want. Subsequently, researchers are trying their best and very eager to find out more about the complexity that we call the brain.


Welcome to my blog!

Hi all,

Welcome to my blog. I am very new to blogging , so readers, please bare with me. I have decided to start a blog to show my fellow aspiring medics/med students/ people of the medical profession my view on medical events, and general ideas about my work experience and how I am going about joining to medical school.

In late December last year, I went to medlink intensive which was a two day residential trip to the university of Nottingham to learn about all things medical school. I won’t go into too much detail as I will be doing a post about that soon; however at medlink, there was a lecture telling us how social media can benefit us in our application to medical school, so I thought why not give it a shot!

I am extremely interested in Neurology, Paediatrics and General Practice, so expect a lot of posts about that!

Find more about me, on my ‘About Me’ page.


Sophie Ward