What is a Video Swallow Study (VSS)?

A video swallow study (VSS) is an imaging test that helps doctors learn more about the following:

  • How your son/daughter swallows food or liquid
  • The strength of your son/daughter’s swallowing muscles
  • If there is a risk of aspiration (certain foods or liquids going into the airway)

How Does the VSS Work?

For the VSS, your son/daughter will swallow small amounts of a contrast liquid called barium. Barium can be swallowed from a bottle (for babies) or a cup (for children and teens).

What Can I Expect For the VSS?

  • The VSS takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Please arrive 15 minutes early. You can stay with your son/daughter for the VSS.
  • Your son/daughter will sit in an infant seat or chair for the VSS, depending on his/her age.
  • The VSS is done by a radiologic technologist (a person who does imaging tests) and a speech pathologist (a person who helps people with speech and swallowing concerns).
  • Barium has a chalky, bitter taste. You can mix barium with small amounts of your son/daughter’s favorite foods or liquids.
  • There are no side effects to barium. You might see a white color in your son/daughter’s stool after the VSS.

Where Do I Check In For the VSS?

Check in for the VSS at Pediatric Radiology on the Boston campus on Ellison 2. Below are directions on how to get to Pediatric Radiology:

  1. Enter the main entrance of Massachusetts General Hospital.
  2. Walk straight past the Information Desk. Coffee Central is straight ahead.
  3. Just before Coffee Central, turn left toward the Ellison/Blake elevators.
  4. Take the Ellison elevators to the 2nd floor.
  5. Follow the signs for Pediatric Radiology.

How Should I Prepare for the VSS?

  • Do not feed or offer drinks to your son/daughter 2-3 hours before the scheduled exam time. Children tend to take part in the exam more if they are hungry.
  • Bring your son/daughter’s favorite bottle, sippy cup or cup with a straw. You can bring more than one if your son/daughter typically drinks from more than one cup.
  • Bring important reports from your son/daughter’s therapists or doctors that describe feeding or swallowing concerns.
  • If your son/daughter eats solid food, bring his/her favorite chewable foods and purees to mix with the barium.
  • If he/she has trouble swallowing a certain food or liquid, bring that food or liquid as well.

What Happens After the VSS?

The speech-language pathologist will go over the video recording of the VSS and next steps before you leave. If the speech-language pathologist finds a swallowing disorder he/she might recommend follow-up care with a specialist (doctor who cares for specific medical concerns).

Rev. 4/2018. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.