What Is a Barium Enema?
barium enema is a type of X-ray imaging test that allows doctors to examine your
lower intestinal tract. It involves delivering a contrast solution that
contains the metallic element barium into your rectum while a technician takes
X-ray images of the area. The barium solution will be delivered using an enema
— a process in which your doctor pushes a liquid into your rectum through your
barium solution helps to improve the quality of the X-ray images by
highlighting certain areas of tissue. The X-ray used in this procedure is known
as fluoroscopy. It allows the radiologist to see your internal organs in motion
by tracking the flow of the barium solution through your intestinal tract.
test doesn’t require painkillers or sedation, but there may be moments of
Why a Barium Enema Is Done
doctor may order a barium enema if they suspect an abnormality in your lower
gastrointestinal (GI) tract. There are numerous conditions and symptoms that
could prompt your doctor to examine your lower GI tract, including:
- abdominal pain
- blood in your stools
- a change in your bowel movements
- Crohn’s disease
- chronic diarrhea
- colorectal cancer
- irritable bowel syndrome
- rectal bleeding
- a twisted loop of the bowels (volvulus)
- ulcerative colitis
How to Prepare for a Barium
doctor will ask you to cleanse your bowels the night before your test. This may
include using laxatives or taking an enema at home.
shouldn’t eat anything after midnight the night before your procedure. On the day
of the procedure, you can drink clear liquids, such as water, tea, juice, or
broth. This is to ensure that your colon is clear of any stool, which could
show up in the X-ray images. Tell your doctor if you’ve been having problems
with your bowel movements prior to the test.
How a Barium Enema Is
barium enema typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes and is performed at a
hospital or specialized testing facility. You’ll change into a hospital gown
and remove any jewelry or other metal from your body. Metal can interfere with
the X-ray process.
be positioned on an exam table. X-rays will be taken to ensure that your bowels
are clear. This may also involve a physical rectal exam.
radiologist will then insert a small tube into your rectum and introduce the
barium and water mixture. The radiologist may gently push air into your colon
after the barium has been delivered in order to allow for even more detailed
X-ray images. This is called an air-contrast
technician will instruct you to hold still and hold your breath while the X-ray
images are taken. You’ll most likely be repositioned several times to take
pictures of your colon from different angles. This may cause you some discomfort
and cramping, but it’s typically mild.
you’re having trouble keeping the solution in your colon, alert the technician.
the procedure, the majority of the barium and water will be removed through the
tube. The rest you’ll pass in the bathroom.
Barium Enema Results
results are typically categorized as negative or positive. A negative result
means that there were no abnormalities found. A positive result means that
abnormalities were found. This usually means that further testing will be
doctor will discuss your results with you and the next steps.
The Risks from a Barium
test involving radiation carries a slight risk of cancer, including X-rays.
However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis outweighs the risks from the
small amount of radiation you’ll be exposed to during the test. Remember that
many things you do regularly, such as flying in an airplane, expose you to much
more radiation than an X-ray.
you are pregnant or believe you may be pregnant, tell your doctor. X-rays are
not recommended for pregnant women because the radiation could harm your unborn
it’s possible you have a tear, also called a perforation, in your colon, your
doctor may opt for a contrast solution with iodine in it. This solution causes
fewer potential complications if it leaks out of your colon.
most common risk of a barium enema is an allergic reaction to the barium
solution. Tell your doctor about any allergies you have.
rare complications from a barium enema may include:
- inflammation of the tissues around your colon
- obstruction of your gastrointestinal tract
- a perforated colon
- a tear in your colon wall
Following up After a Barium
the exam you can go about your day as you normally would. You may resume a
normal diet but you should drink lots of water and increase your fiber intake.
This means increasing how much water you drink and eating foods like whole-wheat
pasta, beans, peas, and raspberries. Sometimes a laxative is needed to help
remove the barium.
a few days after the procedure, you may notice that your stools are white or
lighter in color than normal. This is caused by the barium and is considered
normal. Your rectum and anus may be sore from the procedure.
you have difficulty or pain with bowel movements, fever, or rectal bleeding,
call your doctor. If you do not have a bowel movement for two days after the
exam or are unable to pass gas, call your doctor.