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A barium enema is an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at your lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your lower GI tract includes the large intestine (colon) and rectum.
X-rays use a small amount of radiation to create images of your bones and internal organs. X-rays are most often used to detect bone or joint problems, or to check the heart and lungs. A barium enema is one type of X-ray.
Fluoroscopy is often used during a barium enema. Fluoroscopy is a kind of X-ray “movie.”
The test also uses barium. Barium is a substance that makes certain area of the body show up more clearly on an X-ray. The radiologist will be able to see the lining, size, and shape of the colon. These details might not be seen on a standard X-ray. Barium is used only for imaging tests for the GI tract.
After the barium is in your large intestine, the radiologist may fill the intestine with air. Air will look black on X-ray film. The barium will look white. This contrast makes smaller details show up. When barium and air are used together, the test is called a double contrast study.
A barium enema may be done to look for and diagnose problems in the colon and rectum. You may need a barium enema if your health care provider thinks that you have:
Your health care provider may have other reasons to recommend a barium enema.
You may want to ask your health care provider about the amount of radiation used during the test. Also ask about the risks as they apply to you.
Consider writing down all X-rays you get, including past scans and X-rays for other health reasons. Show this list to your provider. The risks of radiation exposure may be tied to the number of X-rays you have and the X-ray treatments you have over time.
Tell your provider if:
Risks of barium enema may include:
Certain things can make a barium enema less accurate. These include:
You should not have a barium enema if you have:
You should also not have this test if you are pregnant.
You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.
You may have a barium enema as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your health care provider's practices.
Generally, a barium enema will follow this process:
After the exam, some barium will be expelled right away. You will be helped to the bathroom or given a bedpan.
You may go back to your normal diet and activities after a barium enema, unless your health care provider tells you otherwise.
Barium may cause constipation or impacted stool after the procedure if it isn't completely cleared from your body. You may be told to drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in fiber to help the rest of the barium leave your body. You may also be given a laxative to help with this.
Your bowel movements may be white or lighter in color until all the barium has left your body.
You may feel tired afterward because of the lengthy bowel preparation needed before the test. Rest as needed.
Your anus and rectum may be sore because of the bowel preparation. Your health care provider may recommend an ointment to soothe the area.
Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:
Your health care provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.