Barium Enema

Barium Enema

What is a Barium enema?

Barium enema is an x-ray of the large intestine that includes the colon and rectum.  It was used more commonly before colonoscopies became available.  This test is occasionally used to help the doctor diagnose certain problems of the large intestine.

How is the test performed?

The colon must be completely empty (your doctor will give you instructions prior to the test) and the test is performed at a radiology department.

During the test the patient lies flat on their back and on their sides for x-rays to be taken.

A small, well-lubricated enema tube is inserted into the rectum. The tube is connected to a bag that holds a liquid containing barium sulfate. The liquid helps highlight specific areas in the body under x-ray.  The barium flows into your colon, x-ray pictures are taken, and the barium fluid then eventually passes out of your body with your stools.

The doctor will monitor the flow of the barium inside your colon via monitor on an x-ray fluoroscope screen.  There are two types of barium enemas:

  • Single contrast-highlights your large intestine.
  • Double contrast-delivers air into the colon to expand it allowing for even better images.

After the pictures have been taken you will be given a bedpan or helped to the toilet to empty your bowels and remove the barium.

How do you prepare for the test?

You must completely empty your bowels before the exam by enema or laxatives combined with a clear liquid diet.

How does the test feel?

When barium enters your colon, you may feel like you need to have a bowel movement. A feeling of fullness, moderate to severe cramping and general discomfort is normal. Take deep breaths during the procedure to help you relax.

What are the risks?

The test involves low radiation exposure so the risks are low compared to the benefits, however a few of the very rare risks include possible perforation and abdominal gas and bloating.