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Barium Enema

How It Feels continued...

You may be embarrassed by the test. You may worry that you won't be able to hold the barium and that it will leak onto you or onto the table. The doctors who perform this procedure are accustomed to this and will be able to help you.

The X-ray table is hard and sometimes cold because air-conditioning is used to keep the equipment cool. When the barium first flows into your colon, it may feel a bit cool. As your colon fills, you may feel a sensation of fullness, moderate cramping, and a strong urge to have a bowel movement. If an air-contrast study is performed, you may feel increased cramping or gas pains from having gas pumped into your large intestine. Taking slow, deep breaths through your mouth can help you relax.

The test may take awhile, so you may want to bring something to do quietly (like a book or magazine to read).

You may feel tired for a day or so after the test. You should arrange for someone to drive you home after the test. This test can be exhausting.

Risks

There is very little risk of complications from having a barium enema.

  • Occasionally the barium remaining in the colon hardens, causing severe constipation (impaction) or obstruction. To decrease the risk of impaction, drink extra fluids following the procedure and, if your doctor recommends it, take an enema or mild laxative after the test.
  • In rare cases, barium can cause inflamed areas in the colon called barium granulomas.
  • Perforation of the bowel is a more serious, but very rare complication. Under the pressure from the barium or air, a weakened section of the colon may break open, allowing the intestinal contents to spill into the abdominal cavity. It may occur in people whose bowel wall has been weakened by intestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease).

Call your doctor immediately if you:

Results

A barium enema, or lower gastrointestinal (GI) examination, is an X-ray examination of the large intestine camera.gif (colon and rectum).

The results of a barium enema are usually available immediately after the test or within a few days.

Barium enema
Normal:

The colon appears normal. See a picture of a barium enema X-ray camera.gif.

Abnormal:

One or more problems in the colon are detected, such as:

  • A section of colon did not fill with barium.
  • A narrowing (stricture) in the bowel.
  • Polyps or growths on the inner wall of the colon.
  • Sacs in the colon wall (diverticulosis).
  • Structural defects and inflammation (colitis) of the lining of the colon.
  • A narrowed segment or a twisted loop of bowel, causing an obstruction.
  • Telescoped bowel can be seen in a child, indicating intussusception. The barium enema may be used as a treatment to return the bowel to its normal position.

Many conditions can change barium enema test results. Your doctor will discuss any significant abnormal results with you in relation to your symptoms and past health.

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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