Barium enema is a special x-ray of the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum.
This test may be done in a doctor's office or hospital radiology department. It is done after your colon is completely empty. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to empty your colon.
During the test:
Your bowels need to be completely empty for the exam. If they are not empty, the test may miss a problem in your large intestine.
You will likely be given instructions for cleansing your bowel. This is also called bowel preparation. Follow the instructions exactly. This ensures accurate results.
Your bowels are emptied using an enema or laxatives. For 1 to 3 days before the test, you need to be on a clear liquid diet. Examples of clear liquids are:
When barium enters your colon, you may feel like you need to have a bowel movement. You may also have a feeling of fullness, moderate to severe cramping, and general discomfort. Taking long, deep breaths may help you relax during the procedure.
It is normal for the stools to be white for a few days after this test. Drink extra fluids for 2 to 4 days. Ask your doctor about a laxative if you develop hard stools.
Barium enema is used to:
The barium enema test is used much less often than in the past. Colonoscopy is done more often now.
Barium should fill the colon evenly, showing normal bowel shape and position and no blockages.
Abnormal test results may be a sign of:
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored so that the smallest amount of radiation is used. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to x-ray risks.
A rare but serious risk is a hole made in the colon (perforated colon) when the enema tube is inserted.
It is normal for the stools to be white for a few days after this test. You should try to drink extra fluids for 2 to 4 days. Ask your doctor about a laxative if you develop hard stools.
Lower gastrointestinal series; Lower GI series
Bartram CI, Taylor S. The large bowel. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Grainger RG, et al., eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 33.
Zeligman BE. Radiography and radiographic fluoroscopic contrast examinations. In: McNally PR, ed. GI/Liver Secrets Plus. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 20.
Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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