Barium Enema

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A barium enema helps doctors see inside your lower intestine. Barium, a milky fluid, absorbs X-rays.For the procedure, doctors use an enema to put the barium through your rectum.

A barium enema helps us find:

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

Before a Barium Enema

Tell your doctor if you are allergic to latex or barium.

Your intestines must be empty before this test, so you may need 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 the Test

The test last about 1-2 hours, and you may feel discomfort when the enema tube is inserted. You may have bloating and severe cramping during the test. You may also feel as if you need to move your bowels.

The doctor will gently insert a well-lubricated enema tube into your rectum. 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 balloon keeps the barium inside. The doctor will move you several times to make sure 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.

barium enema
Barium enema Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

After the 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 your doctor tells you not to
  • Can return to regular activities when you feel ready
  • Should drink lots of fluids (barium can cause dehydration)
  • May have white or gray stools for 2-3 days after the test (due to the barium)

Follow your doctor's instructions after the test.

Cause for Concern

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 for medical help right away.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.