Barium Enema Procedure and Preparation | Oncology

Barium enema

What is the barium enema?

The barium enema is a type of x-ray imaging test that allows doctors to examine your lower intestinal tract. You apply a contrast solution containing the metallic element barium into the rectum, while the technician takes X-ray images of this area. The barium solution is dispensed by enema; During this process, your doctor inserts a liquid into the rectum through the anus.

The barium solution helps improve the quality of x-ray images by highlighting certain areas of tissue. The x-ray used in this procedure is called fluoroscopy. Tracking the flow of barium solution through your intestinal tract allows the radiologist to see your internal organs in motion. The test does not require pain relievers or anesthetics, but there may be cases that cause short-term discomfort.

Why is a barium enema done?

Your doctor may order a barium enema if he suspects an abnormality in your lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract. There are several conditions and symptoms that may cause your doctor to examine your lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in your stool
  • A change in your bowel movements
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Colon cancer
  • Diverticulitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Polyps
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Loop of twisted intestines (Volvulus)
  • Ulcerative colitis

How to prepare for the barium enema?

Your doctor will ask you to clean your intestines the night before the test. This may include the use of laxatives or enemas at home.

You should not eat anything after midnight before the procedure. This is to make sure your colon is clear of stool, which can be seen on x-ray images. Tell your doctor if you have problems with your bowel movements before the test.

How is the barium enema performed?

The barium enema usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes and is done in a hospital or specialized testing center. He puts on a hospital gown and removes any jewelry or other metal from his body. Metal can interfere with the X-ray process. They will place you on the exam table. X-rays are taken to make sure your intestines are clean. It may also include a physical stool test.

The radiologist will insert a small tube into your rectum and insert a mixture of barium and water. The radiologist may gently push air into your colon after the barium has been dispensed to allow for more detailed x-ray images. This is called a barium enema with air contrast.

The technician instructs you to stay still and hold your breath while taking X-ray images. Often you will be repositioned to take pictures of your colon from different angles. It may cause you some discomfort and numbness, but it is usually mild.

If you have trouble keeping the solution in your colon, notify the technician. After the procedure, most of the barium and water is removed through a hose. The rest you spend in the bathroom.


The results are usually classified as negative or positive. A negative result means that no abnormalities were found. A positive result means that abnormalities are found. This usually means that more tests are needed.

Risk factors for Barium enema

There is a risk of cancer, including X-rays, in any radiation-related test. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis outweighs the risks of the small amount of radiation you are exposed to during the test. Be aware that many of the things you do regularly, like flying an airplane, will expose you to more radiation than X-rays.

If you are pregnant or think you are pregnant, tell your doctor. X-rays are not recommended for pregnant women because radiation can harm the fetus.

If you have a tear, also known as a perforation in the colon, you can choose the opposite solution with iodine. This solution causes fewer potential problems if it comes out of your colon.

The most common risk factor for a barium enema is an allergic reaction to the barium solution.

Other rare problems with the barium enema include:

  • Inflammation of the tissues around your colon.
  • Blockage of your gastrointestinal tract
  • Perforated colon
  • A tear in the wall of your colon

After the procedure

After the test, you will get to know your day as usual. You can resume a normal diet, but you should drink plenty of water and increase your fiber intake. This means how much water you should drink and eat foods like whole-wheat pasta, beans, peas, and raspberries. Sometimes a laxative is needed to remove the barium.

A few days after the procedure, you may notice that your stools are whiter or lighter in color than usual. It is caused by barium and is considered normal. There may be pain in the rectum and anus. If you have difficulty with bowel movements, fever, or rectal bleeding, call your doctor. If you have no bowel movements or gas for two days after the test, call your doctor.

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