Definition

Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs x-rays. Barium will be placed into your bowels through your rectum. This is called an enema. Barium coats the lining of your lower intestines, which makes that area easier to see on an x-ray.

Barium Enema

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Reasons for Test

You may have a barium enema to look for problems in your lower intestines. Some things your doctor may be looking for include:

  • Abnormal growths (eg, polyps, cancers)
  • Ulcers
  • Diverticula (small pouches in the wall of the large intestine)
  • Thickening of the lining of the large intestine

What to Expect

Prior to Test

If you are allergic to latex or barium, tell your doctor.

Since your intestines must be empty before this test, your doctor may ask you to:

  • Eat a clear liquid diet.
  • Take laxatives.
  • Use a warm water or over-the-counter enema.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.

Description of Test

The doctor will gently insert a well-lubricated enema tube into your rectum. In some cases, you may be given an injection to relax the rectum. Barium will be inserted through the tube. A small balloon at the end of the tube will be inflated. This is to keep the barium inside. The doctor will reposition you several times to ensure that the barium coats the walls of the colon and rectum. A small amount of air will be inserted through the tube. The doctor will take a series of x-rays. After this, the enema tube will be removed.

After Test

After the test, you:

  • Will be shown to the bathroom to pass the barium and may be given a laxative
  • May feel mild to moderate abdominal cramping and may need to wait before driving home
  • Can return to your regular diet unless told otherwise by your doctor
  • Can return to regular activities when you feel ready
  • Should drink lots of fluids (barium can cause dehydration)
  • May have white or gray stool for 2-3 days after the test (due to the barium)

After your test, follow your doctor's instructions.

How Long Will It Take?

About 1-2 hours

Will It Hurt?

You may feel discomfort when the enema tube is inserted. During the test, you may have bloating and severe cramping. You may also feel as if you need to move your bowels.

Results

It may take up to few days to receive your test results. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will recommend:

  • Follow-up testing
  • Treatment options

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Severe pain
  • Inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement (two or more days after the exam)
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Bloody stools

If you think you have an emergency, call 911.