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Barium Enema

(Barium X-ray; Lower GI Series)

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Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor

Definition

Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs x-rays. Barium is placed into the bowels through the rectum. This is called an enema. Barium coats the lining of the lower intestines. This makes that area easier to see on an x-ray.

Barium Enema

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Reasons for Test

You may have a barium enema to look for problems in your lower intestines. Some things your doctor may be looking for include:

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

Possible Complications

Complications are rare. Some may have an allergic reaction to the barium or latex of the tube. Talk to your doctor about any allergies you may have.

What to Expect

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

Your intestines must be empty before this test. Your doctor may ask you 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.

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.

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.

About 1-2 hours

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.

It may take up to a few days to receive your test results. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will recommend:

  • Follow-up testing
  • Treatment options

Call Your Doctor

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.

RESOURCES:

American Society of Radiologic Technologists

http://www.asrt.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Radiologists

http://www.radiologyinfo.ca/

Radiology Consultants Associated

http://www.radiology.ca/

References:

Barium enema. McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign website. Available at: http://www.mckinley.uiuc.edu/handouts/barium_enema.html. Updated June 14, 2011. Accessed November 12, 2012.

Lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract x-ray (radiography). Radiology Info.org website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lowergi. Updated June 5, 2012. Accessed November 12, 2012.

Lower GI series. National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lowergi/. Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed November 12, 2012.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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