Milk as Good as Barium Drink in CT-Scans

Milk CowSimple whole milk may be as effective in barium drinks to distend and outline the intestinal tract so it can be clearly seen during a CT scan.

Radiologists at Columbia University randomly gave patients who were having CT scans of their abdomen and pelvis either whole milk or a drink containing barium (VoLumen).  In addition, intravenous contrast was used to enhance images.

Radiologists who didn’t know whether images were produced with milk or barium rated each exam for adequate bowel expansion and the visibility of the bowel wall.  They found no significant differences between the two approaches.

Patients found milk tasted better and had fewer side effects including diarrhea, cramping, nausea, and abdominal discomfort.  And it cost considerably less — the barium drink cost $18 for each exam compared to $1.48 for a glass of milk.

While milk performed well in the study, it may not be right for people who are lactose intolerant.

Dr. Chi Wan Koo and his colleagues concluded,

Whole milk is comparable to VoLumen with respect to bowel distention and bowel wall visualization and has a lower cost, better patient acceptance, and fewer adverse symptoms. Milk is a cost-effective alternative to VoLumen as a low-attenuation oral contrast agent.

SOURCE: Koo et al, American Journal of Roentgenology, Volume 190, Issue 5, May 2008.


  1. says

    I had a CT scan of the abdomen today and followed the advice of this article. I drank two large glasses of milk about 45 minutes before my scheduled CT scan. I was told by the ct technician that my scans DID NOT have the contrast that they would have hoped for. Bottom line. Follow the Doctors order for the tests.

  2. Kate Murphy says

    Constipation or diarrhea may be a result of barium contrast that is drunk to improve CT scan images of the gastrointestinal tract.

    Frequently patients are told to drink extra fluids to prevent constipation after their test. They may also be told to use an over-the-counter laxative.

    If your grandmother’s constipation or stomach upset has lasted more than a day or two, she should call the doctor and ask for more help. If she’s having pain or cramps, have her call right away.

  3. says

    Wow! Congratulations on the find! My great-grandmother has intestinal issues and the barium she drank for her CAT Scan has been giving her some problems as well. Any suggestions as to what might help her?

  4. Amanda Strahorn says

    I think this is amazing! I am a CT technologist at a children’s hospital and I am going to present this idea to our radiologists. We have a lot of trouble with the kids keeping contrast down even when we flavor it. Good job!!!

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