How It Is Done
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 , a well-lubricated enema tube will be inserted gently into
your rectum. The barium contrast material is then allowed to flow slowly into
- 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
- 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
- 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
- If a double-contrast study is being done, the barium
will be drained out and your colon will be filled with air.
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.
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.
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.