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Barium Enema

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • Stool or gas in the colon.
  • Muscle spasms in the colon wall.
  • Severe ulcerative colitis, toxic megacolon, acute diverticulitis, or a suspected perforation of the intestine.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Inability to remain still or to cooperate during the test.
  • Extreme obesity.
  • A barium swallow test (upper gastrointestinal series) done within a week before the test.

What To Think About

  • If your doctor thinks you have an abdominal mass, other tests may be needed before or after a barium enema. These include abdominal X-rays, ultrasound studies, and computed tomography (CT) scans.
  • If an upper gastrointestinal series is planned, it should be performed after the barium enema. The barium swallowed during an upper GI series may take several days to pass through the intestine and thus can interfere with the results of a barium enema.
  • A barium enema is not generally used to screen for colon cancer. Other tests are used instead. For more information, see the topics Stool Tests for Colorectal Cancer, Colonoscopy, Sigmoidoscopy, and Virtual Colonoscopy.

Other Works Consulted

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

  • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Last RevisedApril 16, 2013

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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