Barium enema

Definition

Barium enema is a special x-ray of the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum.

How the Test is Performed

This test may be done in a doctor's office or hospital radiology department. It is done after your colon is completely empty and clean. Your doctor will give you instructions for cleansing your colon.

During the test:

How to Prepare for 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 be given instructions for cleansing your bowel using an enema or laxatives. This is also called bowel preparation. Follow the instructions exactly.

For 1 to 3 days before the test, you need to be on a clear liquid diet. Examples of clear liquids are:

How the Test will Feel

When barium enters your colon, you may feel like you need to have a bowel movement. You may also have:

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.

Why the Test is Performed

Barium enema is used to:

The barium enema test is used much less often than in the past. Colonoscopy is done more often now.

Normal Results

Barium should fill the colon evenly, showing normal bowel shape and position and no blockages.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal test results may be a sign of:

Risks

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.


Review Date: 7/11/2017
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Internal review and update on 11/06/2018 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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