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Barium Enema

How It Is Done

During the test

To make the intestine visible on an X-ray picture, the colon is filled with a contrast material containing barium. This is done by pouring the contrast material through a tube inserted into the anus. The barium blocks X-rays, causing the barium-filled colon to show up clearly on the X-ray picture.

  • You will lie on the X-ray table while a preliminary X-ray film is taken.
  • While you are lying on your side camera.gif, a well-lubricated enema tube will be inserted gently into your rectum. The barium contrast material is then allowed to flow slowly into your colon.
  • A small balloon on the enema tip may be inflated to help you hold in the barium. Tightening your anal sphincter muscle (as if you were trying to hold back a bowel movement) against the tube and taking slow, deep breaths may also help.
  • Occasionally, you may be given an injection of medicine to relieve the cramping.

Your doctor will observe the flow of the barium through your colon on an X-ray fluoroscope monitor that is similar to a television screen.

  • You will be asked to turn to different positions, and the table may be tilted slightly to help the barium flow through your colon and to take X-rays from different directions (sides, front, and back).
  • Your doctor may also press gently on your abdomen with his or her hand or a plastic paddle to help move the barium through your intestines.
  • If a double-contrast study is being done, the barium will be drained out and your colon will be filled with air.

A single-contrast study usually takes 30 to 45 minutes, although the actual time the barium is held inside is only 10 to 15 minutes. A double- or air-contrast study may take up to an hour.

After the test

When the test is finished:

  • The enema tube is then removed.
  • You will be given a bedpan or be taken to the toilet to get rid of as much of the barium as you can.
  • One or two additional X-ray pictures (post-evacuation films) will then be taken.

After the test, you may resume your regular diet unless otherwise instructed. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids to replace those you have lost and to help flush the remaining barium out of your system. Your bowel movements may look white or pinkish for 1 to 2 days after the test. Your doctor may recommend you take a medicine, such as a laxative, to help you pass the rest of the barium.

How It Feels

A barium enema procedure can be uncomfortable and tiring, but usually it does not last very long.

Many people report that the preparation and bowel cleaning are the hardest parts of the test. The laxative may have an unpleasant taste, and the frequent bowel movements can be tiring. Also, the anal area can become quite sore during the process. Warm sitz baths or a local anesthetic salve, such as Preparation H, can help ease this discomfort.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 16, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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