What is a barium enema?
A barium enema is a procedure in which X-rays and barium are used to examine your large intestine (colon) and rectum. Barium is a liquid that can be seen on X-rays.
This procedure is also called a lower gastrointestinal (GI) exam, or lower GI.
When is it used?
This procedure is used to look for problems in the large intestine and rectum (bowels), such as:
· diverticula (weak areas or pouches in the wall of your intestine)
· polyps (growths that project from the lining of the colon into the space inside the bowel)
· inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
Instead of this procedure, other procedures may include a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an exam of the colon with a slim, flexible, lighted tube.
You may choose not to have treatment. Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.
How do I prepare for a barium enema?
Tell your provider if you have any allergies to food or medicine.
Because the large intestine needs to be empty, you will have a special diet for a day or two before the exam. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for what you should or should not eat or drink before the procedure.
Your provider may ask you to take an enema or medicine to clean out your bowels before the procedure.
Wear loosely fitting, comfortable clothes that are easy to get in and out of.
Follow any instructions your healthcare provider may give you. Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what the healthcare provider is going to do.
What happens during the procedure?
During the test, you will lie on an X-ray table. After an X-ray is taken to make sure that your bowels are free of stool, the technologist will insert an enema tube into your anus. The barium solution will be passed through the tube into your rectum and colon. The technologist will follow the flow of barium with a fluoroscope, which is a special X-ray machine that can show movement of the barium. Some plain X-rays will also be taken. You may be asked to change positions several times while the flow of barium is being filmed. At times, pressure may be applied to your belly, or the table may be tilted to get different views.
You may have some cramps or an urge to have a bowel movement during the test. Take long, deep breaths through your mouth to relax. Also try to squeeze the anus to keep the barium in. The enema tube is specially designed to help you do that.
At the end of the test, the tube will be removed and you will go to the restroom to pass barium and air still left in your intestine. You will then return to the table for a final X-ray.
The procedure takes an hour or less. Usually you will need to hold the barium in your bowel for no more than 15 minutes.
What happens after the procedure?
The barium will pass as you have bowel movements over the next few days. You may have cramping until all the extra air has passed from your bowel.
You may feel weak and dizzy after the procedure.
Ask your healthcare provider:
· How and when you will hear your test results.
· What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities.
· How to take care of yourself at home.
· What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.
· Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
What are the risks of this procedure?
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Some possible risks include:
· Rarely, you may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.
· Rarely, you may develop an infection.
· Rarely, the wall of the intestine may tear if it is weak. If this happens, you may need surgery.
Every procedure or treatment has risks. Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.