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China Medicine News Science

Worldwide Shortage of Barium 270

New submitter redhat_redneck writes "The U.S. and Canada has been experiencing a shortage of barium sulfate, which is used as contrast for upper and lower GI studies. It has reached the point where doctors are being asked not to order these exams except in emergencies, and some exams are being cancelled. Here's the letter that's been put out by the manufacturer. The longer this drags on, the more serious this issue becomes, eventually impacting patients and healthcare providers in both cost and quality of care. Some sources point to a dramatic drop in Chinese production. In their defense, it seems China is changing safety regulations. Medical use only make a fraction of the uses of barium sulfate, but it's going to be disproportionately affected by this shortage. We can't go back to our old contrast Thorotrast; it causes cancer. Does anyone know of alternatives to barium?"
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Worldwide Shortage of Barium

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  • Alternatives include (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @04:55AM (#42529557)

    Gastrografin and Ultravist. No reason to defer these examinations.

  • I smell oil. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @05:30AM (#42529755)

    Barium Sulfate is also HUGELY important in oil well drilling mud. []

    China putting a crimp on drilling mud could have some interesting effects, I'm sure. What makes little sense is the complaining about a shortage in hospitals, where a dose is less then an ounce, when oil drillers are pumping the stuff into the ground by the ton...daily...all over the world. Unless of course somebody wants us to get excited about China stepping on the hose without us finding out where the real shortage is.

    I wonder who that might be. I also wonder who submitted this story.

  • Diatrizoic Acid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gee_cee0 ( 1370689 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @07:14AM (#42530237)
    Gastrografin is already being used as a viable alternative to barium in radiological studies as contrast for imaging the Gastro-Intestinal (GI) tract, especially in patients where bowel perforation may be imminent (barium spills into the abdominal cavity as a result, causing barium peritonitis; while rare, it is an incredibly deadly complication), in conditions such as intestinal obstruction, for example. See: [] Given that I am but a medical student, this is fairly well known in the medical world. Which makes this an odd question to ask...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @08:02AM (#42530443)

    This, this is a huge problem that extends far beyond medical waste.

    The human race as a whole likes to think that their waste just vanishes in to the pits of hell. It doesn't, it goes in a landfill or shat out in to the ocean.
    This is a terrible thing when so much of it can be recycled very easily.

    Biomass in particular is extremely precious for farm and in turn food related stuff, it can turn dying land back in to healthy land, various other useful minerals that can be extracted, methane in particular.
    This more than anything should be pushed to be recycled. Throwing it in to the ocean is basically saying goodbye for a good solid 10,000+ years because even the higher swimming fish won't be eating the majority of it.

    And waste food as well.
    Setting up a recycle program to put waste food in a box that gets picked up, or even giving people a free (or cheap) blender for the sake of breaking down food to be flushed down the toilet and treated at a recycling plant that would be in your local sewage treatment.
    Of course, the problem with the latter is some scummy people flush all sorts of non-organic crap down the toilet system daily (including entire diapers!), which should be punishable, but tracking such a thing would be almost impossible. A box, however, is easy to trace at the pick-up level.

    But the problem I mentioned above is only the surface of exactly why such a system would never work in America today. People are wasteful and ignorant asses.
    Even if you were to tell them that barium was cleaned and completely sterile, they would still never want it. Their death, natural selection, etc.

  • Re:Alternatives.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @09:21AM (#42530909)

    The question to ask is why iodine isn't more commonly used. I know iodine is used when a rupture in the GI is suspected since the barium would cause irritation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @10:20AM (#42531483)

    The issue with US-mined barite/barium sulfate is that is lacks the high purity required to meet pharmaceutical specifications. US barite tends to be lower grade (having higher impurities) and is more suited as an industrial filler or weighting agent in drilling mud.

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